Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

It's 150 years since Appomattox; the flag must come down

According to South Carolina media outlets, Gov. Nikki Haley will call this afternoon for the long-overdue removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia.

Good. Pull the thing down.

UPDATE at 4:14 p.m: Haley announced this afternoon that the flag is a part of the state's past, but not its future. If the state Legislature does not remove the flag from the Capitol grounds in its current session, she will call a special session to force the issue.

No, the flag's removal will not end racism. It won't bring back the nine people shot down during Bible study in their church last week. But that flag was put in its place of honor by an act of the state Legislature in 1962 to symbolize official support for racism and segregation, and it must be removed to dispel any doubt in any minds that such sentiments are still sanctioned or even remotely acceptable.

Pull it down. And leave the flagpole, with its lanyard empty and clanging against the pole in the breeze. Leave it as a rebuke, so that people can remember what used to be there, but is now gone.

Under South Carolina law, Haley can't make the decision to remove the flag on her own. The flag can be lowered only by a vote of both the state House and Senate, and even then a simple majority will not be sufficient. The flag can be removed only with agreement of two-thirds of both the House and Senate, a fact that itself testifies to the emotions that the flag inspires. While such a legislative margin is likely in the wake of last week's tragedy, it is not guaranteed, particularly if the decision can be delayed several months.

But the time has come. Argue all you want that the flag isn't meant as a symbol of racism -- no, actually, you can't argue that. You just can't.  It is and has always been meant as a symbol of racism.

It is a flag under which soldiers fought to keep black Americans enslaved as subhuman property. It is a flag that was elevated to new prominence a century after that war, this time to rally white Southerners to defend racial segregation. And more than 50 years after the civil rights movement allegedly transformed this country, that flag retains the ability to inspire and project hatred:

Pull it down.

As we've all learned, Dylann Roof 's goal was to start a race war that pitted black American against white American.  The friends and relatives of his victims refused to reward his hatred with the hate that he sought to provoke, and by doing so they showed far more courage than he could ever possess. The next step is to snatch away the symbol that Roof embraced, and by stripping it from a place of honor strip it of any remaining legitimacy.

Pull it down, put it to rest and let's move on.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.