After the massacre of nine African-Americans at a historic black church in Charleston, the governor of South Carolina has called for removing the rebel Confederate battle flag outside the state capitol's Statehouse. Authorities describe the shootings as a hate crime and Dylann Storm Roof, the white suspect charged with murder, appears in widely-seen photos holding Confederate flags. Here's a brief explanation of the Confederate battle flag, a historic but deeply divisive symbol that remains ever-present in the American South.
THE CONFEDERATE BATTLE FLAG: A LONG, TANGLED HISTORY
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the military of the secessionist, pro-slavery South flew several styles of Confederate battle flags — what most Americans think of as the Confederate flag. Separately, the rebel government also flew several Confederate national flags. What became the lasting symbol of the rebel South and is now known as the "Confederate Flag" or "Rebel Flag" is the rectangular version of the Confederate Army battle flag — a star-studded blue 'X' overlaying a field of red. This version was flown by various Confederate Army units, including the biggest: Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The flag is used to honor Confederate war dead and is embraced by many white Southerners, who say it symbolizes pride in their region's heritage. Parts of its design were incorporated into the state flags of South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia — against the wishes of African-American civil rights groups who viewed it as a symbol of a brutally oppressive past. The flag has been flown over several Southern cities and has also been adopted by white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
THE FLAG IN SOUTH CAROLINA AND AROUND THE SOUTH
South Carolina was the first of 11 states to secede from the federal Union in December 1860; the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, near Charleston. At the base of the Statehouse's Confederate monument, the rebel flag flies atop a 30-foot (9-meter) pole. Nearby, the U.S. and South Carolina state flags were recently lowered to half-staff to honor the nine slain black church members. The Confederate flag was first raised in the South Carolina House of Representatives chambers in 1938 but was not raised over the Statehouse until 1962. It was meant to commemorate the Civil War centennial but some also saw it as a show of defiance as the civil rights movement demanded an end to racial segregation. Opponents of the flag have called for years for its removal from Statehouse grounds and South Carolina lawmakers have just taken the first steps toward taking it down. Alabama's governor, meanwhile, has issued an executive order removing four Confederate banners from a monument to secessionist soldiers outside that state's capitol. Both of Mississippi's Republican U.S. senators say the state should remove the Confederate battle emblem from its flag.