For a flag said to represent “Southern pride,” it sure shows up a lot as a representative of Southern hate.
Countless white supremacist groups use the flag often, and the 21-year-old white man who confessed Friday to killing nine black people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., rocked the “rebel flag” on his license plate and took numerous pictures with the controversial flag.
Now the Confederate flag is back in the news as scores, including 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), call for South Carolina to take it down from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia in light of the massacre.
But how did the flag representing the Civil War’s losing party end up outside that Statehouse to begin with?
The Confederate flag’s proponents may want you to believe it’s because the flag has always been around, representing the South, but that’s purposeful misinformation about an artifact of a rebel past that didn’t truly become popular until Jim Crow was on its way out.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Confederate flag and the calls to remove it from the Statehouse grounds.
When the Civil War ended, so did the Confederate flag … until about 1948.
For decades, the Confederate flag was trotted out only during remembrances of the war dead and was then, for the most part, packed up and put away. Groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy used the flag for memorials and veterans ceremonies, but the flag was still mostly a novelty until 1948. That was the year it went from Civil War memorabilia to political football, when President Harry S. Truman integrated the military and backed several anti-lynching bills, raising the ire of pro-segregation Southern Democrats, aka “Dixiecrats.” After that, with each advancement to end Jim Crow, the flag gained more and more popularity among the segregation set, even being incorporated into several Southern state flags. In 1961 it began to be flown alongside the state flag in South Carolina.
Seven Southern states still use some version of a Confederate flag in their state-flag design.
Some have the rebel flag on their state flag outright, like Mississippi; others have interpretations of various “Stars and Bars” flags in their designs. The seven states, in addition to Mississippi, are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
It’s not actually the official flag of the Confederacy but one of many Civil War-era flags.
The actual flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, has three fat stripes—two red and one white—and a blue field with a circle of white stars; but even this didn’t stay the “official” flag. The Confederacy had multiple flags. But the flag most often seen as representing Southern pride is one of the Confederacy’s original rejected designs, later adopted by Gen. Robert E. Lee as the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. A version of it was also adopted as a naval flag, known as the Second Confederate Navy Jack, which was flown from 1863 until 1865.
The same day the outcry began over Charleston, Texas won in the Supreme Court to keep the Confederate flag off license plates.
Justice Clarence Thomas joined the more liberal justices on the bench in voting that Texas was in the right to deny a group’s request to put the Confederate flag on license plates.
The classic-rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, known for displaying the Confederate flag prominently, dumped it as a symbol in 2012.
The band’s only surviving original member, guitarist Gary Rossington, told CNN it was time to get rid of a symbol so closely used by hate groups: “Through the years, people like the KKK and skinheads kinda kidnapped the Dixie or Southern flag from its tradition and the heritage of the soldiers; that’s what it was about. We didn’t want that to go to our fans or show the image like we agreed with any of the race stuff or any of the bad things.”
In 2000, there was an effort to move the flag from off the South Carolina Statehouse and onto the state memorial flagpole …
And it was successful, sort of. After decades of boycotts of South Carolina by the NAACP, the state Legislature finally voted to remove the flag from the Statehouse, moving it to a nearby memorial, a 30-foot flagpole, honoring Confederate soldiers.
But with that new placement came a new controversial measure: Under the 2000 South Carolina Heritage Act, the Legislature voted that it would take a two-thirds-majority vote to take down the flag from its new placement or to rename any areas named for public figures.
But about that rule …
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) doesn’t think it has to take a two-thirds vote if the Legislature doesn’t want it to:
This is because many people believe that the two-thirds-vote provision is unconstitutional. Those opposed to flying the Confederate flag on state property believe that a simple majority vote would be recognized by the courts as legal. But will the Legislature hold such a vote? Since the Charleston church shooting, Gov. Nikki Haley has joined the chorus calling for the removal, a reversal of her previous stance.
But how did we get to talking about removing the state flag? Social media, of course.
The rallying cry started almost immediately on social media after news spread nationwide about the #CharlestonShooting on June 18.
And it’s still going. On Monday the Republican National Committee joined the state’s senators, Tim Scott and Graham, as well as the governor, in calling for the Confederate flag to come down.