Dylann Roof’s Confederate Flag

Yesterday I read that the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is planning to display the nylon Confederate flag that was removed from the state house grounds in Columbia, South Carolina following the murder of nine church members by Dylann Roof in 2015. This was the plan all along when it was removed, but the funds that were to be allocated for a proper display have yet to materialize. This has placed the staff of the museum in an awkward position since they are mandated to display it with or without funding.

I have serious concerns. The article linked to above reveals very little in terms of how this particular flag will be interpreted for the general public. Allen Roberson, director of the museum, “said he plans to display the modern, nylon flag in a simple frame among the authentic Confederate flags in the…museum.”

But this is not just another Confederate flag. This is Dylann Roof’s Confederate flag. Its meaning and the very fact that it is at present in a box inside a museum has everything to do with Roof’s actions as well as the reaction by the state and the rest of the nation.

Members of the neo-Confederate community have expressed concern about whether this particular Lost Cause artifact will be handled honorably. It goes without saying that this should not be the priority of the public historians on staff. Rather, their focus should be on how to accurately interpret this artifact in light of its brief history beginning in 2000 and ending in the wake of an attempt to start a race war by murdering innocent African Americans.

  • Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54) – Bible study member and manager for the Charleston County Public Library system; sister of politician and former state senator Malcolm Graham.
  • Susie Jackson (87) – a Bible study and church choir member.
  • Ethel Lee Lance (70) – the church’s sexton.
  • Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49) – a pastor who was also employed as a school administrator and admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University.
  • Clementa C. Pinckney (41) – the church’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator.
  • Tywanza Sanders (26) – a Bible study member; grandnephew of victim Susie Jackson.
  • Daniel Simmons (74) – a pastor who also served at Greater Zion AME Church in Awendaw.
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45) – a pastor; also a speech therapist and track coach at Goose Creek High School; mother of MLB prospect Chris Singleton.
  • Myra Thompson (59) – a Bible study teacher.

The museum staff has a responsibility as public historians and as members of the community to engage their visitors around this complicated history. Anything less will be a betrayal of their mission and the memory of the  “Charleston Nine.”

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22 comments… add one
  • RUDOLPH YOUNG Aug 27, 2018 @ 5:34


  • Brad Greenberg Aug 18, 2018 @ 11:36

    I agree with you that the flag needs to be put in context, and that his and his victim’s names need to be somewhere in the discussion. I just disagree with where you put it.

    THIS flag is not his in any sense of the phrase. He never owned this flag. He may have–at best–seen this specific flag. Calling this “Dylann Roof’s flag” is like calling a house Robert E. Lee walked by (or spent a night in) Robert E. Lee’s Home.

    This is also not a Confederate Flag. This was never a National Confederate Flag design, and was never a type of flag flown by the Confederate Government. This is a Confederate Battle Flag, and this specific flag on display is the the State of South Carolina’s Confederate Battle Flag, raised over the statehouse–for the first time–in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s (during the Civil Rights Movement).

    • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2018 @ 11:46

      I wish we could just focus on the content of the post rather than the title. I explained what I meant by describing it as “Dylann Roof’s Flag” so let’s move on if we can.

      I never suggested that he “owned” the flag, just that he is at the center of its removal.

      • Bradley Greenberg Aug 20, 2018 @ 14:17

        The problem is you tied it to Dylann Root–and to only Dylann Root–when you unmoored this Confederate Battle Flag from its history. When a museum was going to place it in a display with other Confederate flags, you said , “But this is not just another Confederate flag. This is Dylann Roof’s Confederate flag. Its meaning…has everything to do with Roof’s actions.” and that the focus should be on interpreting “this artifact in light of its brief history beginning in 2000 and ending in the wake of an attempt to start a race war by murdering innocent African Americans.”

        If this–or any–Confederate Battle Flag only had the 18 year history that you are giving this one, then Dylann Root and his actions would have been the main if not the only reason it came down.

        But, as you well know, this is not true. As you meaning behind the Confederate Battle Flag informed Root’s actions. as it did the actions and beliefs of the KKK (at least as far back as the 1940’s), as it did the actions and beliefs of those who beat and killed civil rights protesters, and as it did the actions of the soldiers of the Confederacy who fought for slavery and the idea that black people were 3/5th of a person and should be treated as property. Root’s actions were simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

  • Matt McKeon Aug 18, 2018 @ 5:03

    I’m sympathetic with wanting to omit the murderer’s name, but he’s part of the story. An exhibit with this particular flag and its uses is an opportunity: raised over the statehouse in the 1960s, forced off the statehouse in 2005(“off the dome and in your face” I remember the slogan was), finally taken down after the race motivated mass murder. How its displayed and the opposition of its display is a way in to understanding what the CBF means to the people of South Carolina.

    • Tom Clark Aug 18, 2018 @ 8:05

      No one — certainly not me– is saying that you should go out of the way to avoid mentioning the perpetrator’s name in a display about this flag and why it’s significant. I think what many of us recoil from is the idea that Dylann Roof owns, or owned, the flag. It’s not literally true and has the effect of promoting his name, as the title of this blog post does, over the other, more heroic and deserving names that could be promoted. Should the story of his role in the flag coming down be displayed and his name used? Of course. Kevin, I have to say it’s really striking that someone of your stature and renown on these issues isn’t seeing this point.

      • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2018 @ 8:51

        I appreciate the follow up, but I would just focus on the content of the post rather than the title. It is “Dylann Roof’s flag” to the extent that he is responsible for what happened to it. That is all I was getting at. I was not trying to minimize the importance of the victims or anyone else in this story.

  • Jean Hutchinson Aug 17, 2018 @ 17:38

    I think I understand why people don’t want Dylann Roof mentioned in the museum exhibit. It’s a way to deny him the notoriety he surely expected from his heinous act. Although his name cannot be expunged, in this one small instance humanity can show its contempt for him.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2018 @ 1:44

      So do you also agree that the names of the 9-11 hijackers should not be mentioned in a museum about what happened that day? As someone who lost a close family member I would find such a suggestion problematic. Sometimes the job of the public historian is to find ways to engage the public around difficult history/memory.

  • David Doggett Aug 17, 2018 @ 16:18

    Unless the mandate is overturned, the flag will have to be displayed. The context provided is what is in question. I think it would be appropriate to relate that it was removed at the instructions of the legislature after a young white supremacist (who can remain nameless) displayed a similar flag prior to murdering nine unarmed African-American citizens in a church prayer group, and give the date and their names as above.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2018 @ 16:36

      For the life of me I do not understand why people are resisting referencing Dylann Roof by name in a history museum exhibit. Even the 9-11 Memorial and Museum in New York City lists the names of the hijackers.

  • Diane Hyra Aug 17, 2018 @ 12:38

    I’m confused. How does a flag that, if I understood correctly, went up over the state house grounds in 2000 and was taken down in 2015 qualify as a Confederate “relic”? I thought only flags used during the course of the Civil War would qualify as a relic. I see no point in this particular flag being exhibited at all.
    On another point, Kevin, do you think of it as Roof’s flag because it came down after his heinous acts? It isn’t the one he posed with, correct?
    If proper funds have not yet been attained to properly contextualize this particular flag, there should be no rush to display it anywhere.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2018 @ 12:43

      On another point, Kevin, do you think of it as Roof’s flag because it came down after his heinous acts?

      Yes, but not just after it…because of it.

      No, it is not the one he posed with.

  • Erick Hare Aug 17, 2018 @ 11:49

    I generally agree with the others not wanting to acknowledge the culprit in any way. The primary catalyst for removing the flag was the loss of life and an acknowledgement that the victims would not have died in vain.

    Similar to how Lincoln emphasized and founded the Gettysburg Address on honoring the men who lost their lives and gave the last full measure of devotion for freedom and liberty. Lincoln only recognized the southern rebellion as a rebellion intentionally to not give the rebels any form of official recognition.

    I think we should only contextualize the flag by honoring the victims not giving the perpetrator more noteriety in infamy that encourages others who desire infamy to seek such noteriety in the future in a similar fashion.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2018 @ 12:33

      Would the Confederate flag have been removed if the photographs of Dylann Roof had not surfaced? It is impossible to imagine that it would. Public historians must acknowledge Dylann Roof in any interpretation of this particular flag. Without it you can’t understand why it’s in a museum to begin with.

  • Algernon Ward Jr. Aug 17, 2018 @ 5:05

    I’m with Tom Clark. It was the deaths of the “Charleston Nine” that paid in blood for the removal of that flag. Their names should be remembered, not the perpetrator. Isn’t that what he wanted? Any interpretation of that flag must include the reason it was removed to a museum in the first place. Remember The Nine. -Al

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2018 @ 5:20

      I am not sure where we disagree. I basically made just these points. I even listed their names in the post. 🙂

      • Tom C Aug 17, 2018 @ 6:51

        You did make those points… that’s why it’s so
        off to immortalize the name ‘Dylan Roof’ in your headline. No one says ‘Where were you when Lee Oswald performed his assassination?’ or ‘Remember the night in Memphis when James Earl Ray killed the leader of the Civil Rights Movement?’ I won’t belabor it, but I hope you’ll reconsider. Roof belongs with (John Wilkes) Booth, Oswald, Ray and other ‘supporting’ characters of history–their ‘support’ consisting of murdering heroes.

  • Tom Clark Aug 17, 2018 @ 3:42

    Thanks for this alert, Kevin. All due respect, I think we’re off on the wrong foot to, even as a shorthand, name this flag for the murderous perpetrator. This is Clementa Pinckney’s flag, or Mother Emanuel’s, or Bree Newsom’s, no?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2018 @ 3:50

      I think there are a number of ways to refer to this particular flag, but I am going to stick with Roof. His actions helped to frame not only how this particular flag is perceived, but the broader landscape of Confederate iconography.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Tom C Aug 17, 2018 @ 6:42

        Fair enough… we’ll agree to disagree on this one. (You’ll forgive my grossly split infinitive…)

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