Charleston’s newspaper of record reported earlier today that the government of South Carolina has kept its Confederate battle flag – a symbol of the state’s dark, racist history – flying above the statehouse, even in the wake of the mass murder of nine South Carolinians at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked disgraced ex-Republican governor Mark Sanford (now serving in the U.S. House of Representatives) how he can defend the flag’s presence atop the state’s seat of government. Sanford promptly trotted out the predictable nonsense about it being part of the state’s heritage.
This is a fabrication. As political scientists James Michael Martinez, William Donald Richardson, Ron McNinch-Su note in their well-researched book Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South, published by the University Press of Florida:
The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans’ groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election.
Historian Gordon Rhea, an expert on the history of the Deep South, made the same point more recently in an address to the Charleston Library Society:
It is no accident that Confederate symbols have been the mainstay of white supremacist organizations, from the Ku Klux Klan to the skinheads. They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: ‘that the negro is not equal to the white man’. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population?
It’s time for the people and elected representatives of South Carolina to decide which century they belong. Is it the nineteenth century or the twenty-first century? If it’s the latter, they should take the Confederate battle flag down.