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Removal of Confederate flag from South Carolina statehouse was long overdue [Commentary]

The Confederate flag flies at the South Carolina State House Building on June 20, 2015.
The Confederate flag flies at the South Carolina State House Building on June 20, 2015. (John Taggart, EPA)

In conversations with people who didn't agree with me, I have passionately and often loudly voiced my view that the Confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse needed to come down.

Finally, it appears that might just happen. In a press release issued on Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she realized that the flag is a symbol that many in the state hold dear, but for others, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past. … Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds."

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I thought I'd be overjoyed to at long last see real movement to have that flag removed from such a high-profile public space, but I'm saddened that it took the murder of nine members of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17 to get politicians and residents there to call for its removal.

It has always felt like a slap in the face every time I saw the Confederate flag flying high over the state's capital because it only went up in 1962 as a response to the Civil Rights movement. Growing up in South Carolina, from KKK-sponsored events there to hearing people at events covered in the news, sometimes by me, who espoused racist opinions, that Confederate flag has often been prominently in the mix. The few times I remember being called the "N" word, it was by someone either wearing the Confederate flag on their clothing or having it plastered on their vehicle, like Dylann Roof had on his car. He's the 21-year-old white South Carolinian accused of shooting the nine African-American church members during their Bible study class in Charleston.

In 2000 when a compromise led to the flag being taken from atop the South Carolina capitol dome, it was placed, for me, in an even more prominent site, next to the sidewalk. It seemed larger, and according to the legislation passed regarding its move, the flag has a black iron fence placed around it, and at night it is illuminated with a large, bright light, for the world to see. Some compromise.

So, when the governor, surrounded by Sen. Lindsay Graham, who's running for president, and other national and local politicians, called for the flag's removal at a press conference, I was not impressed.

I knew my close friend from college, Darwin, who grew up in Charleston, would understand how I was feeling about the governor and other politicians having a sudden change of heart. The day of the shooting, he sent me a text message, saying that his family attended the church where the shootings occurred. His sister would have been at the Bible study class but was out of town. His mother's funeral was held at Emmanuel about a year ago and Darwin remembered conversations with the pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also killed.

" [Haley] sounded pathetic trying to defend the flag's heritage," Darwin said, referring to Haley saying the flag is an integral part of the state's past and she recognizes that some see it as a way to honor their ancestors. "That's not even the flag Confederate soldiers fought under, but a racist invention of the early 1900s."

I've reminded people, too, that the Confederate flag never flew over any battlefield during the war. Haley said people are "choosing to use it as a sign of hate." That's been my experience, which is why I've always been so offended by it and equate it to a swastika. Others who opposed its presence on the state house grounds have said this for years, as well, to deaf ears.

"The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the capitol grounds," Haley added.

I and many others have been pained by that flag for a long time but the powers-that-be were not listening or came up with arguments that it was a symbol, a piece of history and other excuses. For me, that manufactured symbol has fueled hate and racism for too long, so yes, I am saddened and a bit bitter that it has taken a heinous act for leaders there to finally get the message and do what they should have done a long time ago.

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