Take down the flag

Recent slayings underscore that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate

It’s difficult for Californians to understand just how symbolically potent the Confederate battle flag, and in particular the one that flies on the State House grounds in South Carolina, is for Southerners.

Most whites say it represents their history and their culture, their traditions and, indeed, their very identity. It’s not about race, they insist, it’s about honoring those killed in the Civil War.

For the 40 percent of South Carolinians who are black, it’s all about race. The flag represents slavery and its poisoned fruits: white supremacy and the Jim Crow laws, lynchings, segregation and other forms of oppression that accompanied it.

It’s well to remember that the flag was first raised over the South Carolina State House dome in 1962, in reaction to the civil-rights movement, President Kennedy’s effort to end poll taxes, and the Supreme Court’s striking down of segregation in public transportation.

The flag has always been controversial. In 2000, the NAACP demanded that it be taken down, threatening a tourism boycott. The flag was then removed from the dome and relocated to a nearby Confederate memorial on State House grounds.

Despite the fact that many South Carolinians, whites as well as blacks, have long been embarrassed by and even ashamed of the flag, it has remained popular among politicians, Republicans in particular, and among conservative whites. That is, until last week, when Dylann Roof entered a black Charleston church and, after praying with a group of its congregants, pulled out a gun and started his horrific killing.

The subsequent discovery of Facebook photos of him posing with the Confederate battle flag, as well as other symbols and insignia of white supremacist groups, set the truth free once and for all: The Confederate battle flag is an ugly and vicious emblem of hatred. The one that flies over the South Carolina State House grounds must come down.