23 June, 2015
The governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, has called on state lawmakers to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol. She says the flag is an important part of the state's history, but it is not a symbol of the state's future.
"We are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds."
The debate about the flag has grown stronger since a deadly shooting on June 17. Nine members of an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina were shot and killed. The suspected killer is a 21-year-old white man.
Dylann Roof reportedly accepted the flag as a symbol of white supremacy -- the belief that white people are better than all others, especially black people. Photographs of Mr. Roof show him waving a Confederate battle flag and burning a U.S. flag.
A powerful symbol
The Confederate battle flag was one of the symbols of the Confederate States of America, or the Confederacy. The Confederacy was a group of Southern, slave-holding states that left the U.S. in 1861. The Confederacy lost the war for independence and re-joined the U.S. four years later.
In 1961, South Carolina raised the Confederate battle flag over the State House to recognize the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. After protest from civil rights activists in 2000, the flag was moved to a monument for Confederate soldiers on the State House lawn.
Some states, including Virginia, offer automobile license plates with images of the battle flag. But this month the United States Supreme Court announced that states are permitted to limit license plate designs. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe says he is taking measures to remove the battle flag image from license plates made by the state.
In the southern state of Mississippi, the official state flag includes parts of the Confederate battle flag. In 2001, Mississippi residents voted to keep the Confederate symbol in their flag. But this week one of the top lawmakers has joined other protestors in calling for changes to the state flag.
To some, the Confederate battle flag represents an honorable part of Southern history. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley noted that many people in the state link the flag to traditions of history, heritage and ancestry.
To others, the Confederate battle flag represents slavery and a long history of racism. Even after the Civil War effectively ended slavery, many U.S. policies permitted the South to continue to separate white and black people. Images of the Confederate battle flag became popular in the mid-20th century to challenge efforts to improve civil rights laws for African-Americans.
Mitch McConnell is the Senate majority leaders. He says the battle flag is "a painful reminder of racial oppression."
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called the flag a "symbol of racial hatred." His statement put pressure on Republican presidential candidates to discuss the subject of race in their campaigns.
President Barack Obama has said the Confederate battle flag belongs in a museum. But he says states have the right to decide how to deal with the issue.
No matter what state lawmakers decide, Americans will still be free to display the flag on their private property.
I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.
Zlatica Hoke and other VOA reporters contributed to this report. Kelly Jean Kelly wrote it for VOA Learning English. Christopher Jones-Cruise was the editor.
Words in This Story
white supremacy – n. the belief that the white race is better than all other races and should have control of all other races
Confederacy – n. the group of 11 southern states that separated themselves from the U.S. during the American Civil War
designs – n. decorations, such as pictures or shapes
heritage – n. the traditions, achievements or beliefs that are part of the history of a group or nation
civil rights – n. the rights that every person should have regardless of his or her sex, race or religion
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