Later this afternoon South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will announce her support for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state house grounds in Columbia. Lindsey Graham will also make the same announcement after his earlier and even expected waffling. Additional calls for its removal have come from other state politicians as well as the president of the University of South Carolina.
It should come as no surprise that I applaud this move and even consider it a courageous decision. Republicans and other conservative voices will have to deal with the fallout from their constituents who continue to identify with the flag.
But make no mistake: It is the right decision.
While many are calling for the removal of Confederate monuments and the elimination of holidays in honor of Lee and Jackson and even the changing of streets it is the flag on public ground that deserves our attention right now.
I’ve received a number of emails and blog comments pointing out that the Confederate flag ought not be our primary focus. I’ve heard that flags don’t kill people and so on. Such platitudes entirely miss the relevant historical context that connects Dylan Roof’s violence and racial ideology with the very symbol that was used to sanction violence and racism by the state of South Carolina.
The current controversy surrounding the Confederate flag in Columbia has its roots in the civil rights movement and resistance to integration. When that flag went up atop the state house in the early 1960s the government of South Carolina thereby sanctioned its use by whites throughout the state and beyond as part of their resistance to demands by black Americans for freedom and equal rights. The flag atop the capitol signaled to the rest of the world that South Carolina intended to remain a white man’s government in the name of white supremacy.
This history is available to anyone who is interested. Up until this past Wednesday it was easy to offer meaningless gestures of “Heritage Not Hate” or political compromise in support of the flag as a way to avoid these essential truths. And the very politicians responsible for this political spin are now falling into line having failed to find a way into the clear in order to satisfy certain constituents.
The Confederate flag originally went up in the name of hate and white supremacy. Dylan Roof killed in its name by wrapping himself in the very same flag. Remove it with the same love that has brought Charlestonians and others together over the past few days.