Alabama lowers Confederate flag as US retailers ditch merchandise
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The Confederate battle flag was taken down on Wednesday outside the Alabama state legislature as Americans and businesses continue to shun the Civil War-era symbol in the wake of last week’s Charleston church massacre.
Two workers were seen quietly and quickly lowering the flag that has long flown alongside a Confederate war memorial on the state Capitol grounds in Montgomery.
Its removal was “partially” in response to last Wednesday’s allegedly racially motivated killings in South Carolina, Alabama’s Governor Robert Bentley said.
“We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with,” the Republican governor told local media.
“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.”
Last Wednesday’s shooting deaths of nine African Americans during bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a young white man has rekindled controversy over the flag.
Dylann Roof, 21, charged with multiple counts of murder, has been seen in photographs brandishing the flag, which some honour as a symbol of Southern heritage but others denounce as an emblem of white supremacy and hate.
“This is a momentous occasion for the state of Alabama and for the nation too,” civil rights leader Bernard Simelton, who heads the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Alabama, told FRANCE 24 English on Wednesday.
“This is the first step in a long line of things that need to happen in order to rid the country of some of its racist past […] and make sure that we as Americans recognise the rights of every person in this country.”
Pressure is mounting in South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag that flies on the front lawn of its State House in Columbia as part of a Confederate war memorial.
Republican Governor Nikki Haley said on Monday it was time to move the flag in South Carolina but doing so, by law, would require a decision of the state legislature.
Unlike the US and state flags, the Confederate banner was not lowered to half-staff in the wake of the Charleston killings.
Amazon, Walmart act
Major US retailers, led by Walmart and Amazon, have said they will no longer sell Confederate flags, and the Mid-Atlantic state of Virginia said it would phase out Confederate speciality car license plates.
Warner Brothers said it would no longer sell toy versions of General Lee, the red Dodge Charger muscle car from the 1970s hit TV series “Dukes of Hazzard,” which has the flag painted on its roof.
And the NASCAR stock car racing organization – whose events are wildly popular in the South – came out in favour of lowering the flag at the South Carolina legislature.
Elsewhere, a movement to strip the Confederate emblem from Mississippi’s state flag picked up steam, with more than 50,000 people signing an online petition for change and a conservative US senator voicing support.
“After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians,” said Roger Wicker, one of Mississippi’s two US senators.
As the descendant of Confederate soldiers, Wicker said in a statement that he personally did not consider the state flag to be offensive.
“However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others,” he said.
Increasingly isolated supporters of the flag turned to social media to argue their case, where some insisted the rainbow pride flag of the gay rights movement ought to be banned at official venues.
Funeral services for the nine Charleston victims are set to begin Thursday.
One of the victims, chief pastor Clementa Pinckney, lay in state in a coffin at the South Carolina legislature in the state capital Columbia, where he served for 15 years as a senator.
His funeral – where President Barack Obama is to deliver the eulogy – is set for Friday.
Mourners passed through solemnly as state troopers in white gloves and broad-brimmed campaign hats stood guard by Pinckney’s open coffin, which arrived at the State House on a horse-drawn carriage.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)