The symbolic Confederate battle flag didn’t fly in South Carolina for 100 years after the firing on Fort Sumter. Raised to the top of the capitol on April 11, 1961, ostensibly to celebrate the centennial celebration of the firing on Fort Sumter, it became a permanent fixture there because of a resolution from Rep. John A. May. The placement came from a shift of the Democratic party to the GOP in an attempt to protect the Southern way of life represented by racial segregation, white supremacy, and Jim Crow laws from federal intervention. The Ku Klux Klan also adopted the flag as their symbolism of racist hatred and intimation. Only the murders of nine black people, including a state senator, in a Charleston church brought the flat down on 10:00 EST on July 10, 2015.
A few weeks before the flag went up in 1961, ten black students were arrested and convicted because they refused to leave an all-white lunch counter in the state. Nine of them, known as the Friendship Nine, moved the civil rights forward by refusing bail in a strategy called “Jail, No Bail.” Taylor Branch wrote in Parting the Waters that this action reverses the financial burden of protest so that demonstrators aren’t charged but white authorities must pay for the protesters’ food and jail space. The students, who did 30 days hard labor at a prison farm, led other demonstrators by their example. Early this year, a judge tossed out the trespassing convictions against the Friendship Nine, ruling that the men should never have been charged.
Many Southern conservatives, including 3 state senators and 27 state house members, claimed that the flag has no relationship to racism, but the 21-year-old white supremacist who killed the nine black people less than a month ago on June 17 proudly posed for photos with the Confederate flag. The debate in the state house lasted 13 hours because those who claimed that the flag is part of their heritage brought up 68 amendments to the bill, all of them voted down. They failed to persuade the others that the Civil War was about states’ rights and not slavery and racism.
Rep. Mike Pitts declared that the flag shows how dirt-poor southern farmers fought Yankees who were invading their land. He wants the legislature to respect the Confederate soldiers exactly like soldiers who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Ruben Bolling’s history of the Confederate flag in the South:
The argument about flying the Confederate flag moved to the U.S. Congress when the House passed three measures barring the flag’s use on federal lands on the same day that the South Carolina senate passed the bill to take down its flag. An amendment was added to a National Parks Service spending bill to stop the use of Confederate flags in national cemeteries. Another amendment confirmed a NPS request that its stores remove items featuring the flag as a symbol, just as retailers such as Walmart and Amazon have done. A third amendment blocked funding for the Confederate flag on National Park land unless it provides historical context, in line with NPS policy. The amendments passed by voice votes in the U.S. House.
Late the next day, however, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) put up an amendment allowing federal cemeteries to keep the Confederate flag. The vote to keep the Confederate flag on federal property was scheduled for July 9, the anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment promising equal protection of the laws. Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-GA) told reporters that the Confederate battle flag isn’t racist and that he didn’t think Confederate soldiers had “any thoughts about slavery.” Negative publicity caused the appropriations bill–and Calvert’s amendment–to be pulled from the floor.
Over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech against slavery using the biblical directive that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave conservatives control over his agenda when he chose to pass bills with only Republican votes. Republicans are becoming more and more divided against themselves because extreme conservatives withhold their votes if they don’t get what they want. Conservative groups such as Heritage Action, from the Heritage Foundation, also wield great power, just as they did in the 2013 government shutdown and the current position of keeping the Export-Import Bank from being reauthorized.
After Boehner pulled the appropriations bill, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) proposed a measure to remove any flags with Confederate symbols from the U.S. Capitol. At least five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi—have incorporated parts of the Confederate flag in their state flag, and Mississippi includes the complete Confederate flag as part of its state design. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the only black representative from Mississippi, introduced the same resolution a month ago and does not display his state flag in his congressional office. He said:
“We are a nation of laws. We should not identify with symbols of hatred and bigotry. That flag, those symbols, should be put in a museum. They should not be flown under any circumstance where there is freedom and dignity in this great institution of ours.”
A vote sent the resolution to a committee after Democrats demanded a paper vote following the contentious voice vote to show people who is willing to vote in favor of a symbol of hatred and violence. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), complained, “We’ve put our heads [out] like a pumpkin on a stick and given [Democrats] a baseball bat.”
On Friday, the House Republicans suspended work on appropriations bills, fearing more amendments from Democrats related to the Confederate flag. The House also cannot vote on the funding bill until after it votes on the Calvert amendment to put Confederate flags into all federal cemeteries. The flag isn’t the only problem. Boehner said that he will put together a commission to examine the use of Confederate symbols in the Capitol which will include statues of Jefferson Davis and John Calhoun, fighters for slavery. The party that understands they can’t win with only white male voters may not want to be seen as the party fighting for the Confederate symbols. Boehner has “for some adults here in the Congress to actually sit down and have a conversation about how to address this issue.” He didn’t say where he plans to find these adults.
GOP presidential candidates are split on the issue of taking down the Confederate flag. The most extreme ones claimed “states’ rights” which translates into “I’m afraid of saying anything that could get me in trouble.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker followed South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in a rapid “evolution” to taking down the flag in South Carolina after Haley moved from “no big deal” to “big deal,” possible on her way to becoming a potential vice-presidential candidate. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal extended states’ rights by tacking on the old “don’t talk about it while we’re in mourning” translated as “let it blow over so we don’t have to deal with it” approach, commonly used for mass shootings.
Attention to the Confederate flag kept the discourse from gun sense laws after the killings until the information surfaced that the NRA-backed three-day law for background checks allowed the Charleston killer to purchase a gun. A breakdown in communication between police departments and county government resulted in lack of sufficient knowledge to deny the killer a gun based on his drug-related felony charge.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) tried to use the lack of communication as a reason to keep from enacting more strict gun sense laws. The real problem, however, comes from gaps caused by powerful gun-manufacturing-controlled groups. Requiring all records from prohibited people to go into one system with background checks required for all gun sales would have stopped this horrifying glitch. At this time, records are spread out enough that some people slip through the limit of three business days to deny or approve a purchase before the dealer can automatically complete the sale. Another part of the problem is the laxness of law enforcement. For example, some county sheriffs in Oregon are saying that they will give low priority to the new background check for all gun sellers.
Michael Lind, historian and native Southerner, explained the way that greed and class domination joins racism to drive the economic system. Over 100 years ago, the Redeemers, pro-business Southern politicians, vowed to undo the post-Civil War Reconstruction racial and economic reforms. When the federal government turned the responsibility for educating the poor, building hospitals and roads, and creating the nation’s first national health care system for freed slaves, Redeemers dropped all these programs to cut taxes for wealthy plantation owners. Today’s Republicans in the South follow the same pattern, keeping workers dependent on employers so that employees won’t get “uppity.” Poor people with no benefits have no control over their lives, and corporations have cheap labor in these states with the greatest poverty and worst health in the nation. In addition, prisoners provide unpaid labor for private businesses.
The South today: the love of the Confederate flag and guns protecting the top 1 percent while the rest of the people don’t even know they’re being flim-flammed.