Past time for South Carolina to lower the Confederate flag — permanently

A Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Friday.
A Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Friday. The Associated Press

It’s a decades-old argument that should’ve been resolved decades ago.

No, the Confederate battle flag should not be flying on the grounds of South Carolina’s state Capitol. Not on the Statehouse dome, as it was until 2000, and not a few feet away at the Confederate Soldiers Monument, as it does today.

No, it shouldn’t be incorporated, blatantly or subtly, into the flags of six other Southern states.

No, it’s not a pure symbol of Southern pride and tradition or a way to honor one’s ancestors.

Yes, it is symbol of racism. Yes, it was used during the Civil War – a war fought over the South’s desire to continue enslaving black people. Yes, it is used by the Ku Klux Klan. And yes, it was resurrected in the 1950s solely to rally resistance to the civil rights movement and support the South’s desire to maintain segregation.

In fact, it was South Carolina’s legislature that, in 1962, put the Confederate flag atop the Statehouse dome in Columbia. And it was that same flag, now next to the dome, that state Sen. Clementa Pinckney saw from his office window a few hours before he was gunned down in his Charleston church by, according to police, a young white supremacist who idolizes the Confederate flag. Eight others died, too.

The insanity of keeping the Confederate flag aloft should be obvious. And it no doubt is to the many sane retirees, corporations and others who, over the decades, have helped South Carolina develop its bustling modern economy. The 21st-century South has a lot riding on its ability to evolve beyond despicable Civil War grudges.

And yet, until Monday, when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, declared “it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” it wasn’t obvious. Far from it.

Asked about the flag, the cast of Republicans running for the 2016 presidential nomination all sidestepped the question – including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, though he apparently had a change of heart over the weekend.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said he was confident that South Carolina would “make the right choice” for its people. Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, complained about being “baited” with the question. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker basically refused to answer at all.

The South Carolina primary is less than a year away. GOP candidates need – or think they need – votes from Confederate flag-loving, conservative white residents.

We are thankful then, that Haley, Graham and others are showing some political courage. Displaying the Confederate flag on private property is one thing.

“The Statehouse is different,” as Haley said, “and the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way.”

The battle isn’t over yet. To oust the flag from Capitol grounds, South Carolina’s Legislature must vote to authorize discussing the matter in a special session and then, by two-thirds margins in both chambers, vote to remove it. Similar efforts have fallen short in the past.

And then there are the six other Southern states with flags that pay homage to the Confederacy in one way or another. Those need to go, too. And yet the momentum that exists in South Carolina hasn’t made it to their borders.

The Confederate flag has no place in government. Like Nazi Germany’s swastika and the Soviet hammer and sickle, the Confederate flag belongs in museums and history books to be studied and understood, not to serve as a sugar-coated symbol.

California figured this out when lawmakers, in a bipartisan vote, overwhelmingly approved a bill by Sen. Isadore Hall, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, to ban the sale of replica Confederate flags in the Capitol gift shop. It’s long past time for other states to do the same.

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