Following the brutal murder of nine people at a historic black church in South Carolina, many have wondered why the Confederate flag — a symbol of racial segregation — has continued to stand outside of the state Capitol building.
One of those people is Mitt Romney.
On Saturday, the former Republican presidential candidate called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the front of the South Carolina State House, in order to honor the nine black victims of Wednesday’s shooting. “To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred,” the former GOP presidential candidate tweeted on Saturday.
The Confederate flag is a controversial symbol for many Americans today. A 2011 Pew Research poll revealed that nearly a third of all Americans, or 30%, have a “negative reaction” when “they see the Confederate flag displayed.”According to the same poll, this is three times more than those who have a positive reaction. A majority (58%) have no reaction. In a 2013 YouGov poll, a plurality (38%) of those polled disapproved of displaying the flag in public places.[
In the same poll, a plurality (44%) of those asked viewed the flag as a symbol of racism, with 24% viewing it as exclusively racist and 20% viewing it as both racist and symbolic of pride in the region.
In Georgia, the Confederate battle flag was reintroduced as an element of the state flag in 1956, just two years after the Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education. It was considered by many to be a protest against school desegregation. It was also raised at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) during protests against integration of schools.
Supporters of the flag’s continued usage view it as a symbol of Southern ancestry and heritage as well as representing a distinct and independent cultural tradition of the Southern United States from the rest of the country. Some groups use the “southern cross” as one of the symbols associated with their organizations, including groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. For other supporters, the flag represents only a past era of southern sovereignty. Some historical societies such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy also use the flag as part of their symbols. Some rockabilly fans hold the battle flag as their emblem as well.
As a result of these varying perceptions, there have been a number of political controversies surrounding the use of the Confederate battle flag in Southern state flags, at sporting events, at Southern universities, and on public buildings. In their study of Confederate symbols in the contemporary Southern United States, the Southern political scientists James Michael Martinez, William Donald Richardson, Ron McNinch-Su write:
The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans’ groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election
Southern historian Gordon Rhea further wrote in 2011 that:
It is no accident that Confederate symbols have been the mainstay of white supremacist organizations, from the Ku Klux Klan to the skinheads. They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: ‘that the negro is not equal to the white man’. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population
Symbols of the Confederacy remain a contentious issue across the United States and their civic placement has been debated vigorously in many southern U.S. state legislatures since the 1990s, such as Georgia.Supporters have labeled attempts to display the flag as an exercise of free speech in response to bans in some schools and universities, but have not always been successful in court when attempting to use this justification.
Hey, a flag’s a flag — right?
The comments sparked outrage among some South Carolina conservatives, a key voting bloc in the Palmetto State. In protest, a group called the Americans for the Preservation of American Culture ran several radio ads attacking Romney for not supporting the state’s heritage.
See? It’s all a matter of “Heritage.” Right Randy?