Charleston shooting reignites debate over Confederate flag

As many call for the Confederate flag to be removed from South Carolina's capitol, interpretations of the symbol are still divided.

Jason Miczek/Reuters
People hold signs during a protest asking for the removal of the confederate battle flag that flies at the South Carolina State House in Columbia, SC on Sunday.

With widespread demands to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol building in the wake of the Charleston church shooting, debate over the real meaning of the flag has returned to the public consciousness.

The Battle Flag for the Army of Northern Virginia – often called the Confederate flag, though it was never the Confederacy’s national flag  – is seen as either a symbol of southern pride or one of slavery and racism. Holders of the latter viewpoint, who have been using the hashtags #ConfederateFlag and #TakeItDown on Twitter, are saying that the time has come to remove the flag from capitol grounds, but popular opinion and legal obstacles may stand in the way.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, called the flag “a symbol of racial hatred” in a Twitter post, and demanded its removal. Jeb Bush, 2016 Republican candidate, called for South Carolina to follow Florida's example.

“My position on how to address the Confederate flag is clear,” said the former governor of Florida. “In Florida, we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged.”

Texas senator and Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz was less willing to commit to a stance, calling the issue “a question for South Carolina” at an Iowa campaign event, the New York Times reported.

“I understand the passions that this debate evokes on both sides,” Mr. Cruz later said. “Both those who see a history of racial oppression and a history of slavery, which is the original sin of our nation.... But I also understand those who want to remember the sacrifices of their ancestors and the traditions of their states – not the racial oppression, but the historical traditions.”

These historical traditions come to mind for about 9 percent of Americans when they see the Confederate flag, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey found that fewer than 1 in 10 Americans have a positive reaction to seeing the Confederate flag displayed, while 30 percent have a negative reaction. Some 60 percent either have no reaction or said they did not know how they felt.

The same survey showed that nearly half of all white respondents call states’ rights the main cause for the Civil War, suggesting that for many, the Confederacy is seen as more than the incarnation of racial oppression and slavery. A more recent survey showed that only about a quarter of Americans see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, while over a third see it as one of southern pride.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) defended the flag’s place at the capitol in an interview with CNN, but said the debate did not belong in the conversation over the Charleston shooting.

"We're not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere. It's him ... not the flag," he said.

The question of taking down the flag is not only fraught with social and political complications; it also involves legal and logistical ones, and these may be the real barrier, according to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R).

“In South Carolina, the governor does not have legal authority to alter the flag. Only the General Assembly can do that," Ms. Haley's press secretary told ABC News.

The press secretary was referring to a law passed in 2000 – a compromise between those wishing to remove the flag from the capitol’s dome, where it stood since 1962, and those wishing to preserve it. The law stipulated that the flag be taken off the dome, but that it be flown instead on a flagpole on the State House grounds near the Confederate Soldiers’ Monument. Without a two-thirds vote from the General Assembly, the flag cannot be lowered, removed, or changed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Charleston shooting reignites debate over Confederate flag
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today