The preliminary moves made this week in South Carolina to haul the Confederate battle flag down from state Capitol grounds has sparked a wave of soul searching by other Southern states where the emblem still enjoys popularity and is displayed on license plates and monuments.
If South Carolina follows through on Gov. Nikki Haley’s pledge to remove the Confederate battle flag from outside the state Capitol in Columbia, Mississippi will stand alone in having the polarizing symbol waving at seat of state government.
Calls for removing the flag — seen as a sign of Southern heritage by some, and racism by others — have been mounting since a White Richland County man shot and killed nine Blacks in a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17.
Down in Alabama
On Wednesday, Republican Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered the Confederate battle flag removed from a memorial on State House grounds. Earlier this week, Mississippi’ House speaker — a conservative White Republican — stunned many in the state by declaring he thought it was time for the symbol to go.
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Philip Gunn, said in a statement.
“As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
‘This is the day’
Haley on Monday joined increasing numbers of public officials and business leaders calling for the flag’s removal. The effort has gained support from prominent public officials nationwide, including President Barack Obama and 2016 presidential hopefuls.
Wal-Mart and NASCAR are among the corporate giants disavowing the flag.
Inside the South Carolina State House, some lawmakers expressed concern about outside pressure forcing a debate on the flag — a point of bitter argument in the past — while they are grieving the loss of a colleague and a friend.
Others were springing into action.
The Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate, a minority in both bodies, agree the flag needs to come down.
His voice trembling, Democratic state Rep. Joe Neal implored lawmakers Tuesday to “put aside partisan bickering and understand that all of us are human beings and all of us deserve to be treated like human beings.”
“If ever there’s going to be a day when South Carolina can rise and be the state that it claims that it is, this is the day,” Neal said, receiving an ovation.