Why South Carolina’s Confederate Flag Isn’t at Half-staff Following Church Shooting

© Chris Keane/REUTERS A Confederate flag flies outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, January 17, 2012.
© Chris Keane/REUTERS A Confederate flag flies outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, January 17, 2012.

After Dylann Storm Roof allegedly shot up an AME church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine people, two flags were lowered more than 100 miles away in Columbia, the state’s capital. Atop the South Carolina State House, the U.S. flag and South Carolina’s palmetto flag flew at half-staff as the manhunt for Roof ended with his capture in North Carolina and prayer vigils were planned. The show of respect would have been appropriate even if one of the state legislature’s own — state senator Clementa C. Pinckney — had not died in the attack.

But a third flag within view of the State House — a Confederate one — flew as high and as proud as ever, flapping in the breeze on a sunny day.

This looked bad.

Roof was photographed wearing flags himself — of defunct white supremacist regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia — and drove a car featuring a Confederate flag license plate. The Emanuel AME Church shooting and its description by authorities as a “hate crime” were tragic enough to be compared to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., a murderous act that claimed the lives of four young African American girls and helped bring about passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

And yet, as a pastor and members of his flock lay dead and the Supreme Court dealt a blow to those who wish to display Confederate flags on license plates in Texas, South Carolina seemed to be flaunting its heritage of slavery as the first state to secede from the Union. It was deplorable enough, critics said, that the flag was there in the first place.

But, it seemed, no one — particularly not South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) — could do anything about it. This was a matter of law.

“In South Carolina, the governor does not have legal authority to alter the flag,” a Haley spokesman told ABC on Thursday. “Only the General Assembly can do that.”

That seemed strange. On public property all across America — not just at state houses but at schools, libraries, DMVs and tollway plazas — flags are presumably raised and lowered without reference to or permission from legislative bodies.

But South Carolina has been fighting about its capitol’s Confederate flag for decades. Indeed, the flag first went up on the capitol dome in 1962 in defiance of the burgeoning civil rights movement. A cultural war fought a century after the first battle of Fort Sumter followed.

“The flag issue … has convulsed the state’s political culture for years, as black and white residents argued over whether the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of slavery and oppression, or of a noble Southern heritage,” the New York Times wrote in 2000.

Interest in the flag ebbed and flowed, but was always there.

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SOURCE: Justin Wm. Moyer
The Washington Post

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