|A poem by Maya Angelou, at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial|
Since the murder of nine African American people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag has rightly been a hot topic. The flag flies on the grounds of the South Carolina and Alabama state capitols, and is part of the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi. Elements and earlier versions of the flag can also be seen in the Alabama, Arkansas and Florida state flags.
This national discussion about the Confederate flag is long overdue. Some see the Confederate flag as a relic of a long-ago Civil War. The flag, however, has a much more recent history as a hurtful symbol of racism, segregation and violence.
In 1948, President Truman -- a Democrat -- proposed civil rights legislation that included provisions to repeal the poll tax and make lynching a federal crime. The Democratic party also included a civil rights plank in that year's Presidential campaign. Southern Democrats who opposed these measures formed a segregationist political party known as the Dixiecrats, who adopted the Confederate flag as their symbol.
Although Truman was elected in 1948, the Dixiecrats won in Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana. The Dixiecrat party no longer exists, but the party's legacy continued in the form of resistance against desegregation. In the years that followed, people who happened to be African American and who simply wanted to vote, go to school or sit at a lunch counter faced intimidation and violence -- including four little girls who were killed in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. In that ruling, the Court overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" doctrine and declared public school segregation unconstitutional. The Confederate flag once again appeared as officials in Southern states defied federal desegregation efforts.
In 1956, Georgia legislators voted to incorporate the Confederate flag in the Georgia state flag. John McKay, one of 32 legislators who opposed the flag change, stated that the flag "telegraphs a message." In April 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace ordered the raising of the Confederate flag over the state capitol. Wallace was about the meet with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to discuss the state's refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama campus. The Confederate flag still flies on the grounds of the Alabama and South Carolina state capitols.
Which leads us back to last week's senseless tragedy in Charleston, and the increasing recognition that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred and violence. Simply put, it has no place over government buildings or grounds. Political leaders from both parties -- including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley -- are finally acknowledging the public revulsion at this symbol. Walmart, Amazon and eBay are refusing to sell products that contain the Confederate flag.
A little late, but it's a start.