Much has been made about whether the Confederate flag is racist in the days after the mass shooting of the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Even as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called to remove the flag from the state Capitol's grounds, she gave credence to the idea that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of white supremacy and instead is a way to honor fallen soldiers and Southern heritage.
In the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a heavily researched post that should, hopefully, settle the dispute. He pointed to numerous writings from during and before the Civil War era — including some from Confederate leaders — that made it clear Southern states were seceding because they feared the North would take away their ability to enslave black people. Just read South Carolina's justification when it became the first state to secede after Abraham Lincoln's election:
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
There's no mincing words in this statement. South Carolina specifically stated that it saw any attempts to abolish slavery and grant rights to black Americans as "hostile to the South" and "destructive of its beliefs and safety." So some people may feel they are simply honoring the dead of the Civil War by flying the Confederate flag, but the history laid out by Coates suggests blatantly racist connotations.