The Confederate flag flies in front of the South Carolina State House in Columbia. A Confederate flag license plate is attached to the front of 21-year-old Dylann Roof’s car.
Roof, who reportedly wanted “to start a civil war,” shot and killed nine black worshippers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a historically black house of God that has consistently been a house of resilience, “a symbol of black freedom” since its founding in 1816.
It is relatively simple to grasp why Roof, a man photographed wearing a jacket bearing flags of two African countries when whites ruled blacks — Aparthied-era South Africa, and Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe — would want the Confederate flag decorating his car. But it is far less clear what a Confederate flag is doing outside a United States government building in 2015. To make a horror even more horrifying, the Confederate flag was not even lowered to half-mast in the aftermath of the shooting.
“Take Down the Confederate Flag — Now,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, less than a day after the murders. South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph, in an effort to put the shooting in context, pointed out that “This is a state that feels that it is okay to fly the Confederate flag in front of our State House.” And on. And on. And on.
And then: on Friday, Republican South Carolina State Representative Norman “Doug” Brannon announced that he plans to sponsor legislation to take down the Confederate flag from the front of the state Capitol. As he told Chris Hayes on MSNBC, “I had a friend die Wednesday night for no reason other than he was a black man. Sen. Pinckney was an incredible human being. I don’t want to talk politics but I’m going to introduce the bill for that reason.”
Brannon is one of the few high-profile Republican legislators not only to speak out against the Confederate flag’s display at the State House but, in doing so, to acknowledge the flag as a symbol of hate and the murders as a hate crime. Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham declined to attribute Roof’s actions to the racist implications of the Stars and Bars (“It’s him… not the flag.”) and asserted Columbia’s right to keep the flag on display: “It works here, that’s what the State House agreed to do. You could probably visit other places in the country near some symbol that doesn’t quite strike you right.”
Though Jeb Bush, one of approximately 10,000 people who wants to be the GOP presidential candidate in 2016, actually demanded the Confederate flag be removed from the Florida Capitol grounds 14 years ago, he has avoided contextualizing the shooting as a racist act, saying instead, “I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes.” While “It looked to me like it was” a racist act, Bush told Huffington Post reporter Laura Bassett, he repeated that he “didn’t know” for sure what motivated Roof.
Only a state law can get the flag off the South Carolina Capitol grounds; it is currently under the protection of the 2000 South Carolina Heritage Act, which “stipulates… where certain flags of the Confederacy shall be flown or displayed on the grounds of the State Capitol complex, and which prohibits the removal of these Confederate flags on the State House grounds and the removal, changing or renaming of any local or state monument, marker, memorial, school or street erected or named in honor of the Confederacy or the Civil Rights movement” without a join resolution, a two-thirds vote of each house, the usual rigamarole.
And yes, you are reading that correctly: the same legislation that keeps the Confederate flag hoisted above South Carolina is the one that protects the legacy of the Civil Rights movement.
Brannon said he will “pre-file that bill in December before we go back into session.”