The Confederate flag has been a source of controversy in South Carolina for a long time. Even before pictures of suspected Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof posing with it turned up online, massive protests in 2000 had led to its removal from the top of the State House -- only to find it relocated to a Confederate war memorial nearby, where it’s still padlocked in place.
While it can’t be moved from state grounds without a majority vote by the legislature -- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is working on that -- major U.S. retailers seem to have other plans. In just the last two days alone, Walmart and Amazon have already pulled the Confederate flag from their shelves. Separately, a petition to remove the flag has garnered nearly 500,000 signatures.
The debate is still raging on both sides, from critics who say it's a painful symbol to proponents who argue it just represents the state’s heritage. We decided to dig deeper into the origins of the flag and why upsets so many.
It was originally designed with white on it -- to symbolize white supremacy
William Thompson, the designer of the original "Stainless Banner" version of the Confederate flag, was quoted explaining his motivation for creating it in a
book from the 1870s.
“As a people,” he said, “we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.” He also said he hoped the flag would “be hailed by the civilized world as the white man’s flag.”
Contrary to popular belief, the Confederate flag wasn’t actually the official flag of the South during the Civil WarGetty
During the Civil War -- which ended slavery when the North prevailed -- the Southern states, fighting as the Confederate States of America, used three different flags (including the "Stainless Banner"). But none of those designs were the flag we now think of as the Confederate flag. That was actually used as the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee’s Northern Virginia Army. The modern Confederate flag “only came to be the flag most prominently associated with the Confederacy,
after the South lost the war.”
The Confederate flag wasn't flown over South Carolina’s Capitol until 1962 -- when it was put up in response to the Civil Rights movementGetty
Some pro-flag supporters claim the Civil War was really about states’ rights -- not slavery.
Many modern proponents of the flag view it as a symbol of state independence from the federal government. But in the book "The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem," multiple southern Civil War veterans made it very clear that “state rights” really meant "rights to own slaves."
One of those veterans, Ed Baxter, said in 1889, “In a word, the South determined to fight for her property right in slaves.” Another, Colonel John S. Mosby, wrote in 1894, “I’ve never heard of any other cause [for the war] than slavery.”
The flag has frequently been flown by members of the Ku Klux KlanGetty
While it isn’t the hate group’s official flag, the KKK and other racist hate groups have often used the Confederate flag as a symbol of white supremacy.
Texas won’t be putting the flag on license plates anymoreGetty
On June 18, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas can refuse to issue specialty license plates that feature the Confederate flag without being in violation of the First Amendment. The case originally went to court when a Confederate group requested the license plates and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles denied them, saying “that a significant portion of the public associates the Confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to those people or groups.”
Some organizations boycott South Carolina because of the flag
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) boycotts both South Carolina and Mississippi, the only other state that still flies the Confederate flag over their state capitol. Writing for Slate last spring, Josh Voorhees said, “In 2001, the NCAA imposed a ban on either state hosting post-season sporting events ... as long as the flags continued to fly, and neither it nor the states have budged since.” The NAACP has long encouraged boycotting the state because of the flag, too.
Country singer Jonathan Byrd has been speaking out about the flag...
In a much-shared Facebook post, the singer, who's from North Carolina, wrote, “It doesn't threaten your heritage. You take off your hat for a lady. You clean the shit off your boots before you walk into a church. It's just a matter of respect. Admit that your perspective might feel right and be wrong. Take it down, South Carolina.”
...and so have Republicans
Republicans are historically pro-flag, but Rick Perry, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney have all advocated for the flag to be taken down. Romney called it a “symbol of racial hatred,” and Bush told South Carolina to “do the right thing.” Many Republicans still maintain that it’s ultimately up to the state to decide, though.
What do you think about the flag? Should South Carolina take it down? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.