It's Time to Take Down the Flag

Dylann Roof's bigotry and bloodshed handed America a golden opportunity to begin overcoming a divisive split that began in South Carolina--and rightfully could end there--more than 150 years ago.

Roof created one of the best chances to overcome entrenched racism since South Carolinians attacked Fort Sumter and went to war against their country, by shooting nine black people last week as they prayed in one of the South's oldest churches, "Mother Emanuel A.M.E." in Charleston. He gift-wrapped this present by confessing to the terrorist action and by posting photos of himself with Confederate flags and other symbols of racism.

America, it is clearly time to move past the Confederate flag--that symbol of hate and staunch defense of white supremacy. The call to remove that offensive symbol has spread rapidly, even before Charleston has buried the victims. So, Roof, a 21-year-old white man who said he aimed to "start a race war," created a most costly opportunity.

No matter how the state or the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors decide to handle this heinous murderer, it is apparent that African Americans will gain a chance to finally be freed from routinely confronting the symbol of a bloody rebellion that was fought to keep their ancestors in bondage.

The rebel banner still waved over South Carolina's state house Wednesday. But the state legislature prepares to consider removing the flag from the capitol grounds-- even as mourners there streamed past the body of the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a pastor and state senator among those killed in the church.

Other states moved faster, joining "an emotional, nationwide movement to strip symbols of the Confederacy from public parks and buildings, license plates, Internet shopping sites and retail stores," the New York Times reported.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered the flag off of license plates. Alabama's governor ordered four flags off the capitol grounds in Montgomery. Leaders in Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee vowed to do the same. Amazon, E-bay, Sears and Walmart have declared their businesses against marketing Confederate-decorated merchandise.

Why does it take a church massacre to remove the Confederate flag, many black Americans are asking. The South has dealt blacks a bad hand for decades. And make no mistake, out national government and the rest of the country encouraged or allowed this mistreatment.

The South made a mockery of black freedom for 100 years while the Civil War losers rebuilt their region on the backs of former slaves, using convict labor, sharecropping and other revisions of enslavement. During this period black were able to obtain land the southern currency was no good so white plantation owners sold land to blacks in exchange for labor. Most of the land was swamp or contained poor soil. Black farmers cleared the farms and made the best of it.

Still today in my home state of Virginia, one of four states that identify as commonwealths along with Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Massachusetts, we see that cruel symbol everywhere. Along Highway 58 in Southside Virginia the Confederate flag is prevalently flown on many homes, holding on to a tragic chapter in history for black people.

In the coming days, as we lay to rest the nine Charleston victims, President Obama will deliver the eulogy of Rev. Pinckney and almost certainly will speak about unity, healing, forgiveness. Many of the victims' families have already forgiven the shooter.

It's time for deep racial healing in this country. Sowing bad seeds will bring a very bitter harvest, it always does. It's time for a new generation of good seeds to bring about a long standing change in race in America--enough of open season on black folks.

"Tear down this wall," Ronald Reagan famously scolded the Soviet Union, calling an end to the Cold War. Meanwhile, he happily looked away from Dixie and the defeated South's clinging to ending our split over the U.S. Civil War--no matter how hurtful to black citizens.

Surely, we need stricter gun laws and more focus on mental health. The poisonously mis-educated Dylann Roof certainly hated with a passion. But to murder nine human beings in God's house indicates more than a deep mental problem. Let's all do our part to have a constructive dialogue about race, in our homes, churches and workplaces. It's time to make America better. Take down the flag in South Carolina--and everywhere.