The Confederate flag came down at South Carolina's Capitol grounds on Friday after state lawmakers approved a law that will move it to a museum. And the crowd was celebratory — chanting "USA, USA, USA" and singing "na na na na hey hey hey goodbye" as the flag fell.
The Confederate flag's demise came after weeks of tense debate. After a white man shot and killed nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month, state lawmakers were criticized for allowing the Confederate flag — a symbol of white supremacy — to fly at the state Capitol. Supporters of the flag claimed it was about celebrating the South's heritage, but lawmakers ultimately agreed it was too offensive of a symbol to African Americans to remain on Capitol grounds — and took it down.
The Confederate flag has always been a symbol of white supremacy and racism
Throughout history, the Confederate flag has been repeatedly used as a symbol to oppress black people. It was flown by Southern armies during the Civil War as they fought to keep slavery. And it was later brought back in the 1960s, as Vox's Libby Nelson explained, to intimidate civil rights advocates and defend segregation.
Supporters of the Confederate flag claim it's flown to honor the dead who fought in the Civil War and pay tribute to the South's heritage. The problem is this heritage is mired in racism — as demonstrated by states' justifications for seceding at the start of the Civil War.
South Carolina, the first state to secede, said in its official statement 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":
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.
Mississippi, meanwhile, was even more explicit in its statement, saying that its "position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery":
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.
These statements leave no doubt that the South fought in the Civil War to protect the institution of slavery. This deeply racist history is why South Carolina lawmakers were criticized for allowing the flag to fly over the state Capitol — and why they decided to take it down.