A week ago, a white supremacist walked into a South Carolina church and murdered nine black churchgoers. In the wake of this hate-crime, there has been a lot of strong feelings running rampant, especially towards the Confederate flag. The murderer of these nine people, Dylann Roof, has posted facebook photos of himself posing next to Confederate flags and other racist symbols, such as the Apartheid flag and the white-supremacist government flag of Rhodesia. This massacre has sparked protests and a campaign to take down all Confederate flags in government buildings, even trending the hashtag #takeitdown.
Many people believe that the Confederate flag is a symbol of southern heritage and to take down the flags would be a violation of their rights. People ranging from nobodies to congressman have come out to defend the flag, either citing that the flag doesn’t mean what we think it means or that their ancestors fought and died for that flag. However, a lot more have expressed their dislike of the flag and everything it really stands for—racial inequality and oppression. Even Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate of 2012, tweeted: “Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims.”
The truth is, the Confederate flag has never been an American symbolic heritage. It literally represents a chunk of our country that tried to secede because they wanted to keep their slaves. And some may say that the Civil War was not fought because of the slaves, but in the Cornerstone Speech, the speech that defined the Confederacy, Vice President Alexander H. Stephens said “the great truth [is] that the negroe is not equal to the white man.” The Confederate flag that people have been using isn’t even the real flag that the Confederacy used—it was the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee and was first displayed in the South Carolina statehouse in 1961. But people have been using it with different intentions and connotations for years, so that the real meaning has been forever altered to something so much uglier. It has been, and always will be, a symbol of white supremacy and black oppression. The fact that it is associated with the KKK and terrorists like Dylann Roof should tell you that.
In the past week, Civil Rights activists have taken advantage of the media’s attention to demand that these flags be taken down from all government buildings. Debates have been raging on all forms of social media with people defending both sides. Last Tuesday, protesters gathered on the steps of the statehouse chanting “take it down.” Even the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, has called for the removal of the flag, though for that to happen, the South Carolina congress must pass a ⅔ vote. All across the US, states from Alabama to Mississippi are taking down their Confederate flags and even removing it from license plates. So far, The South Carolina state capitol is the last to give in to the protestors.
On June 27th, Bree Newsome, an activist from North Carolina, took matters into her own hands and scaled the flagpole in front of the South Carolina state house to take down the Confederate battle flag. Her act of defiance started a hashtag #keepitdown in which many people are supporting her actions, even the NAACP. Bree and her co-conspirator were arrested soon after, inciting another hashtag #freebree, but they have since been released. This woman is being hailed a hero for doing what a room full of legislators were either too afraid or too stubborn to do.
The Charleston Massacre is a tragedy. The Confederate flag may not have been directly responsible for the deaths, but it is a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.” It is time for all government buildings to stop displaying such a hateful flag and hopefully, sometime soon, we will achieve that. In the meantime, keep the names and the families of the victims in your thoughts and prayers: Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59.
This article was written by Halley Dewey, a writer for dusk magazine.