Why is South Carolina Still Flying a Confederate Flag?

Wednesday night's shooting and a subsequent manhunt that ended Thursday morning has brought national attention to Charleston, South Carolina, where officials and community members are still coming to terms with the massacre in a historically black church that left nine dead.

But the shooting, which by most accounts was a racially motivated hate crime, also drew renewed attention to the Confederate flag that flaps from a flagpole on the state capitol grounds, a bitter irony for activists in the shooting's aftermath, and an issue that has long been the subject of debate in South Carolina.


The Controversy Over the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

There's a growing movement to highlight the absurdity of the Confederate flag in South Carolina...

Posted by ATTN: on Friday, June 19, 2015


Many on social media were sharply critical of the flag's prominence on state grounds, where it remained at full mast while the U.S. and South Carolina flags were lowered to half mast in the wake of Wednesday's shooting, according to local reports. Why is it not at half-staff while the rest have been lowered? Well, it's a complicated situation, as Gawker's Andy Cush described:

According to Raycom Media reporter Will Whitson, the continued display is something of a technical issue: it’s affixed to the top of the flagpole, not on a pulley, meaning that it would be difficult if not impossible to lower it halfway without taking it down altogether—a proposition that presents its own set of problems. State law demands that the government “ensure that the flags authorized above shall be placed at all times as directed in this section and shall replace the flags at appropriate intervals as may be necessary due to wear,” writes Schuyler Kropf at the Post and Courier. In other words, the flag can’t be pulled down until it’s voted on.

On Twitter, the Cornell historian Edward Baptist wrote in a series of tweets that the Confederate flag represents a deep-seeded history of proslavery, segregation, and violence against African-American communities. "SC's state flag is a flag of slavery. But it is also a flag of terrorism," he wrote. "That terror is among other things anti-religious and particularly, anti-Christian. Churches have been bombed & burned for what it symbolizes."

Others on Twitter were equally uncomfortable about the flag's presence in the aftermath of the shooting.

Many saw implicit associations with Old South racism when 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof opened fire on a church congregation gathered in what has been a symbol of slave revolt and African-American resilience since the early 19th century. Others observed that Roof himself explicitly embodied it in pictures circulating on social media where he posed in front of a car with Confederate flags on the license plate or wore a jacket patch bearing the flag of apartheid-era South Africa. In other words, according to civil rights activists, there were numerous reasons to feel uncomfortable with the state brazenly flying a confederate flag as the nation mourns those killed Wednesday night.

Mother Jones notes that until protests in 2000 led the state to relocate the flag to the Confederate Soldiers Monument, South Carolina had flown the stars and bars on the Capitol dome in Columbia for decades tracing back to the early 1960s, when it was seen as both a symbol of southern heritage and, as time wore on, a defiant statement against the progression of the civil rights movement.

"The flag that Dylann Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, endorses the violence he committed." --...

Posted by Southern Poverty Law Center on Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wednesday's shooting spurred renewed insistence to force state officials to remove the flag, but lawmakers have rebuffed activists' requests over the years. In October 2014, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said that she saw no issue with the flag's presence during a gubernatorial debate. According to Haley, the flag, while controversial among certain demographics, didn't stop job-generating companies from bring their business to the state.

"What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag," she said, adding that the state's image problem was mended by appointing minority lawmakers. "We really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African-American U.S. senator. That sent a huge message."

Coincidentally, national attention on South Carolina's flag came as the US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state of Texas had the right to refuse to issue specialty license plates bearing the confederate flag (or an iteration of it) to its residents.

White supremacist hate groups have seen a surge in recent years, increasing by 56 percent since 2000, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks organizations who advocate forms of white superiority. These groups include neo-Nazis, white-pride groups, and the Ku Klux Klan.