As South Carolina remains reluctant to remove the Confederate battle flag that continues to fly full-mast in front of the statehouse, Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley quietly ordered the removal of the flag from state Capitol grounds on Wednesday morning.
Two workers exited the Capitol at around 8:20 a.m. and took the flag down, refusing to answer questions. When asked he had ordered the flag’s removal as he exited the Capitol building on his way to an appearance in Hackleburg, Bentley answered simply, “Yes, I did.”
Asked if the decision was influenced by the bloody massacre by a white supremacist in a South Carolina church, which left nine African-Americans dead, Bentley answered:
“Yes, partially this is about that. This is the right thing to do. We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise, we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down.”
Unlike South Carolina, which requires a 2/3 vote to remove the symbol of racism, hatred, and treason from in front of the statehouse, Alabama has not enacted any laws which would impede the flag’s removal. Bentley explained that before he made his final decision, he ensured that no laws or state policies existed that would prevent him from taking down the flag — so he did it, just like that.
After the Confederate battle flag was removed, workers took down three other flags used by the Confederacy. The flags were flying atop a Confederate monument, reportedly a short walk from the governor’s mansion. There is no word if the monument itself will be removed.
While Alabama may have joined us in the 21st century, it is uncertain if South Carolina legislators will opt to remove the shameful flag from state grounds. Republican Governor Nikki Haley, who defended the flag’s presence just last year, had a change of heart after the bloody rampage, where Roof said his goal was to shoot a bunch of black people and ignite a new Civil War.
“Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will to say it is time to remove the flag from our capitol grounds,” Haley said. “This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”
“I hope that, by removing the flag, we can take another step towards healing and recognition — and a sign that South Carolina is moving forward,” she added.
The Post and Courier has been asking South Carolina legislators their opinion on the flag’s removal and, while many refuse to answer, the general tone among respondents is overwhelmingly in favor of the flag’s removal:
Numerous businesses have voiced their support of the removal of this symbol of hate, including eBay, Amazon, Walmart, Sears, and others, all of whom have stopped selling or allowing the sale of the Confederate flag.
Even NASCAR, a favorite sport of Confederacy-fetishists, spoke out in support of the flag’s banishment from state grounds:
“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted. NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate Flag on Monday. As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate Flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity. While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our events.”
Whether or not the flag’s removal will be successful in South Carolina is up in the air, but we must applaud Bentley for exercising reason in a state that celebrates Robert E. Lee’s birthday, Confederate Memorial Day, and Jefferson Davis Day — though, it might be time to consider canceling those, too.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.