Justice

Here's a Breakdown of States Displaying Confederate Memorabilia

June 27th 2015

By:
Brigida Santos

On Saturday morning activist Bree Newsome climbed a flag poll on the capitol grounds in Columbia, South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag. Earlier this week South Carolina politicians called for the removal of the Confederate flag, after a racially motivated shooting at a Charleston church left nine African Americans dead last week. The state legislature must vote to remove the flag, and needs a supermajority to do so.

 
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The shooting has inspired many other states to follow suit and call for the removal of Confederate inspired memorabilia, which includes license plates, statues, flags and merchandise.

The Confederate flag has been a heated topic of debate since the Civil War 150 years ago. For example, it was recently the subject of a Supreme Court case about whether the state of Texas had the right to reject specialty license plate designs containing the offending flag. The high court ruled in favor of Texas, stating that it did not violate free speech when denying the request from Sons of Confederate Veterans (CSA) , because the plates wouldn’t simply reflect the views of those who purchased them, but could also implicate the state of Texas—the issuer of the license plates—in speech it didn’t want to endorse.

It turns out that vehicle owners in ten states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) can still order state-issued plates with the same CSA flag on them rejected by Texas. Several of these states -- like Virginia -- are now contemplating having these plates removed.

ABC News reports that Confederacy inspired flags still fly from government related spaces in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee.

To understand why Confederate imagery is being so intensely debated at the moment, all one needs to do is brush up on American history. History.com states that, “During the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America consisted of the governments of 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union in 1860…in order to preserve slavery, states’ rights, and political liberty for whites.” The Confederacy lost in 1865 but that didn’t mend the deep racial divide that had already torn apart the nation.

In fact, the New Georgia Encyclopedia provides a historical account from the Atlanta Race Riot that took place over 40 years after the Civil War, in 1906, that reportedly, “contributed to the passage of statewide prohibition and Black suffrage restriction by 1908.” This is important because according to the document, “although it had a profound effect on many of those who experienced it, for decades the riot was forgotten or minimized in the white community and ignored in official histories of the city.”

Today, over a century later, this statement still holds true. Or at least it did until the tragedy in Charleston last week finally got those in power to wake up and do something about it.

According to that same encyclopedia, the history of the Georgia state flag has been contentious. In 1956, just two years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision ended racial segregation in public schools, the state’s white leaders successfully campaigned to make the Confederate battle flag the official one of the state to show their opposition.

The battle flag flew high and proud throughout Georgia until 2001 when Governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat with a large African American following, passed a new racially neutral flag through the House of Representatives. Barnes’ flag flew over the state for a measly two years before lawmakers returned it to a design symbolizing the Confederacy known as “Stars and Bars” in 2003. This version was less blatant than the 1956 version but it was still an emblem of inequality nonetheless. No other choice had been presented on the ballot that year, and it remains the official flag of Georgia to this day.

In Mississippi—where Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy, was brutally beaten, mutilated and murdered in 1955 by two white men for allegedly flirting with a white woman—the Confederate battle flag can still be seen waving in the upper right hand corner of the Mississippi state flag today.

Aaron Henry, President of the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP, had introduced bills to get rid of the Confederate portion in 1988, 1990, 1992, and 1993. Sadly, none of them were even brought to the floor for a vote.

However, now it looks like House speaker Philip Gunn may make Henry’s wishes come true, as he is calling for the removal the Confederate section of the flag. In a statement to the press, quoted by the New York Times, Gunn said, “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed.”

Similarly, in Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley had four Confederate flags removed from the grounds of the state Capitol’s Confederate Memorial this week. According to Alabama state archives, the flag, which “was intended to preserve in permanent form some of the more distinctive features of the Confederate battle flag, particularly the St. Andrew’s cross,” could soon be gone for good too.

And finally, the last state inspired so far to make changes after the Charleston massacre, is Tennessee. Leaders there are calling for the removal of a bust depicting Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, which currently sits outside of the state senate chamber.

This news comes as reports that other notable Confederate statues on public land have been vandalized, like those of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee, at the University of Texas in Austin.

If anything positive comes out of the Charleston shooting, we hope it's that America learns from its past and changes this country for the better -- for all of its citizens. So they can walk through the streets without fear of being reminded of a symbol of bigotry.