NEW YORK -- Across the American south, the emblem of insurrection and slave holding is falling. On Wednesday, Robert Bentley, the Republican governor of Alabama, ordered the removal of four Confederate flags from statehouse grounds, stating it was “the right thing to do.”
Bentley’s intervention followed a speech by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Monday, in which she urged her state legislature to remove the flag from their Capitol building.
State workers take down a Confederate flag on the grounds of the state Capitol, Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Montgomery, Alabama
The sudden marginalisation of the Confederate flag, decried by critics as a symbol of racism, segregation and white supremacy, followed the massacre of nine people in an historic African-American church in Charleston last week.
Authorities suspect the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, was motivated by racism, the gunman telling the African-American parishioners they were “taking over our country” before killing them. The US Department of Justice is looking to prosecute the killings as either a hate crime or an act of domestic terrorism.
Speaking to AL.com, Bentley said: "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."
On Tuesday, some of America’s leading merchants said they were discontinuing sale of the civil war emblem. Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Sears said they were pulling the toxic symbol from their shelves. Speaking to CNN, Walmart spokesman Brian Nick said: "We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment -- whether in our stores or on our web site."
In Tennessee, politicians said a controversial bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, should be relocated outside statehouse grounds. Likewise, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has ordered state license plates to no longer carry the Confederate emblem.
In Mississippi, south of Virginia and Tennessee, Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn has asked for the removal of the Confederate battle cross, which sits in the top left corner of his state’s flag. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
In a country riven by political division, demands for the removal of Civil War iconography have been unexpectedly bipartisan, with Republicans and Democrats forcibly pushing in tandem for change.
Kerry L. Haynie, a political scientist at Duke University, told the New York Times: “To see all of this happening, all of a sudden, it speaks of some fundamental change in the country. It is surprising in the sense that there have been calls for this for years. But it took this tragedy to spur this type of change.”