More than just a flag….

The Confederate Flag came down for the last time yesterday at the South Carolina State House.

It’s worth watching this speech below from South Carolina Representative Joseph Neal (thanks to Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire). It is a moving and dignified speech, which well explains the significance of the Confederate battle flag finally being consigned to a museum. He made the speech during the debate in the South Carolinian State legislature on the subject of the flag.

Matthew Teague writes an excellent article about the event over on the Guardian, concluding:

The crowd vibrated with emotion, both contentious and euphoric, making clear the flag had grown beyond its physical dimensions. It had done what all flags do: it signified something larger than itself.

Even so, the argument about the object – “Did this flag ever hurt anybody?” – holds true, in another sense. In the weeks since the Charleston shooting the flag became a totem for racial strife, allowing pained people across a nation to gather their diffuse anger and focus it on ever-narrower targets: on the south, on South Carolina, on a single flagpole. But the original reasons for that anger, including black people dying at the hands of police in Missouri, Ohio, New York and elsewhere, remain complex, unresolved, and far-flung from any southern statehouse. However powerful the Confederate flag may be as a symbol, it didn’t kill those people.

“This was a very smart move by the politicians in South Carolina. They traded the flag away,” said history professor Edward Baptist, of Cornell University. “And it’s a lot easier for a white, northern media establishment to focus on the flag than, say, stop-and-frisk policies nationwide.”

Beyond those larger issues, there remain places where Confederate flags still officially fly. Mississippi’s state flag, for instance, bears a smaller version of the battle flag in one corner. State legislators there plan to take up the issue in January. In the meantime other icons of the Confederacy – flags, monuments, markers, license plates and bumper stickers on automobiles – are increasingly drawing petitions around the country.

On Friday, though, opponents of the flag in South Carolina celebrated a victory they had fought for – marched for, protested for – for half a century.

Thomas Wiggins – the man urging cars to honk as they passed – dropped his face into his hands. “Man,” he said, “I don’t even know the words for this feeling.”

You can read Matthew Teague’s full article here.

Here’s a few photos to mark this momentous event. Scroll down to view them, and you can roll your mouse or finger over the photo to see the caption – or double click on the photo to see it in context on the Getty Images website.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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18 Comments

  • Well overdue. However, better to look forward – well done to all those involved.

  • Yet we allow people to carry the ISIS flag?

  • When is the Union Jack going to be removed from the Hawaiian state flag?

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 5:10pm

    The issue of the flying of the Union Jack flag on Belfast City Hall caused a riot during the 2010-2015 parlaiment.
    Non-sectarian and anti-sectarian people should be helped wherever possible, but please consult them first because there is a danger of doing more harm than good.

  • A Social Liberal 11th Jul '15 - 5:22pm

    Richard Underhill

    The hoo ha in Northern Ireland was nothing to do with the flying the Union Flag – indeed it was about the exact opposite, it was about NOT flying the flag. To reprise, Belfast City Council stopped flying the Union Flag outside City Hall on all but special occasions, bringing it into line with the rest of the country. Unionists of all colours started jumping up and down about that – not because the flag was being flown.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 6:03pm

    Indeed, one must be most careful with one’s wording for fear of ambiguity or being misunderstood.

    The issue was whether to fly the flag or not fly the flag.

    David Ford, leader of the anti-sectarian Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, said that it was an attempt by Unionist parties to get rid of the APNI deputy leader Naomi Long as MP for East Belfast, although she was not at the time a member of Belfast City Council which made the decision about the flag.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 6:16pm

    Paul,

    Are you saying that flying the Confederate flag is not incitement to racail hatred?
    What is it then? Nostalgia for something that ended in the 1860s?

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Jul '15 - 8:04pm

    Whilst I agree with Professor Edward Baptist up to a point, how can one diminish the importance of the symbolic gesture for the people who have marched and argued for its removal and who were overwhelmed by emotion when the flag was removed?

    After the euphoria, with the flag out of the way, people can now put all their energies into tackling the racism that still scars America . The future of the child in the photograph is dependant upon it. Events such as those on Ferguson demonstrate how far there is to go, and it saddens me that progress has been so slow.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 9:24pm

    Hear! Hear! Jayne.

  • It is worth remembering that, at the time, the “Liberal” British government of the day (under Palmerston) showed a marked favouritism to the Southern Confederacy, and on one occasion nearly became drawn in — the disaster being narrowly averted by some adroit diplomacy (in which the dying Prince Consort was intimately involved ).

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 11:12pm

    Regrettably much of the history of the party is a long time ago.
    Palmerston predated the enfranchisement of 1917-1918 and the further enfranchisement of 1928- 1929.

  • A great day for America, but so much is left to do. Now they need to tackle the ghettoisation of Black America, and that needs to start with the projects; demolish Queensbridge, Marcyville, etc. After the projects, it’s got to be the hoods, that’s when we’ll start to see real change. I don’t believe there can be freedom in a society that denies basic services to its citizens based on their locality, every major American city I’ve visited suffers from this horrific design flaw, even many of the smaller, interior cities you’d never expect it of.

  • “Are you saying that flying the Confederate flag is not incitement to racail hatred?
    What is it then? Nostalgia for something that ended in the 1860s?” (Richard Underhill 11th Jul ’15 – 6:16pm)

    To me it is a sign that one state has finally decided to accept the reality of the Confederate surrender of May 1865 and decided it is now time to stand up as members of the Union.

    Interestingly, if the EU project succeeds, I’m sure there will be a time when it’s individual member states will also have to make similar decisions.

  • (Matt Bristol) 13th Jul '15 - 9:37am

    I am clearly not from the US, and therefore their symmbolic language has less effect on me, and I cannot deny the symbolism of the confederate battle flag in the hands of racists.

    But if I were going to ban anything in the aftermath of the recent shootings, it would be handguns first, and anything else later. Can I suggest without being accused of nihilist cynicism that the emphasis on the flags from the legislators and the activists is precisely because they know the handgun issue is deadlocked and they are looking for ‘easier wins’ that enables them to celebrate some kind of victory when many muyst be close to despair?

  • @Matt
    America’s in a vicious cycle and is looking for exits. They can’t ban guns, the pro-gun lobby is too strong and many people feel that it’s an issue worth a civil war. Despair was a long time ago, they’re close to change but it’s very complicated, many of these problems are by design, it’s hard to change any of the major factors without things going really badly wrong. There is hope though, polling shows America is becoming more liberal and more ethnic as time goes on. There’s a list of things as long as your arm of things that need to happen, getting rid of the confederate flag was one of those things and it was the appropriate moment for that.

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