9, 2015 saw Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, sign the
bill removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the
state capital. This ended a decades long struggle. The flag came
down the next day, to be placed in a museum. This was triggered by
the massacre of nine African-Americans participating in a bible
study group in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Church in
Charleston on June 17 by a white supremacist. He had posed with the
flag before the killings. In 1961 (on the centennial of the
beginning of the Civil War with the Confederate attack on Fort
Sumter in Charleston harbor), South Carolina had hoisted the flag to
protest federal policies challenging racial segregation policies.
The South Carolina NAACP launched a boycott to protest this. While a
2000 compromise later removed the flag from flying over the state
house to being placed by the Confederate Memorial next to the state
house, the boycott continued. Impassioned pleas in the South
Carolina legislature for the flag’s removal came from Paul Thurmond,
son of Strom Thurmond, the segregationalist Dixiecrat presidential
candidate in 1948, and Jenny Horne, whose ancestors include
Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
This dramatic sequence of events
followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the right of
the state of Texas to deny ancestors of Confederate soldiers special
license plates decorated with the Confederate battle flag. Several
Southern States still allow this However, Virginia’s governor
ordered the recall of 1,700 such license plates. This followed the
decision of a federal judge invalidating his 2001 decision requiring
Virginia to offer these plates to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
There are now efforts in several
venues to ban the flag and to remove Confederate memorials from
public areas, including buildings. The governor of Alabama quickly
followed suit after the South Carolina vote by ordering the removal
of the battle flag from the grounds of its state capital. The most
notable attempt now to remove the flag is taking place in
Mississippi, whose state flag includes the Confederate battle cross.
In 2001, the state’s voters approved retaining this symbol by a more
than a 2-1 margin. In August, the head football coaches at Ole Miss
and Mississippi State, along with the state’s football icon Archie
Manning, joined other notable non-sports celebrities calling for
removal of this emblem from the state flag.
Major controversies are taking
place in New Orleans and Memphis. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
in July demanded the removal of statues of Robert E. Lee, Pierre G.T.
Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis and a monument to the Battle of
Liberty Place, honoring the coup that toppled that integrated
Reconstruction government of the city. On August 13, the city’s
Historic Landmarks Commission voted 11-1 to authorize their removal.
The final authority lies with the City Council, which can declare
them to be public nuisances. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal opposes
their removal and is seeking state authority to override the city’s
right to proceed.
In Memphis, the effort to remove
the grave of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and his
monument from a public park named for him has been long standing.
Opponents of the park pointed to his being a slave trader before the
Civil, then after the Civil War being the first Grand Wizard of the
Klu Klux Klan, and his command of the Confederate forces involved in
the massacre of black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow on April 12,
1864 (both of the latter charges contested by Forrest admirers). The
local spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who support
continuation of the park, say that Forrest was “a great community
man. He was an inspiration for everyone”. This sentiment was echoed
by Forrest’s great-great-grandson, a Memphis resident. A. C.
Wharton, Jr., the African-American mayor of a majority black city,
supported the 2013 act of the city council to remove Forrest’s name
from the park. In July, 2015, the Memphis City Council unanimously
voted to remove the statue and Forrest’s remains from the park. The
state of Tennessee’s Historical Commission will still have to waive
a state heritage law prohibiting war memorial changes in order for
Memphis to proceed.
These examples are only a few of
the disputes now occurring not just in the South but nationally over
school buildings, roads, and parks named after famous Confederates;
monuments honoring Confederate generals at places like Monument
Avenue in Richmond and Stone Mountain, Georgia; “rebel” nicknames of
athletic teams; and other similar issues. Meanwhile, retailer
Wal-Mart has stopped selling items like the Confederate battle flag
and other private organizations are being lobbied to disassociate
themselves from the flag. It took the shocking event in Charleston
to generate these many efforts to place the Confederate battle flag
where it belongs – in historical museums of the Civil War.
Jefferson Davis Monuments:
Confederate Battle Flag, Personal License Plates, and
The Illusion of 'The Lost Cause'
Assessing African American Attitudes Toward the Civil War