Funerals And The Future Of The Confederate Flag

Jun 28, 2015
Originally published on June 29, 2015 2:54 pm
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ARUN RATH, HOST:

They have come to be known as the Emanuel Nine - the African-Americans murdered in their own church. This weekend, congregants gathered at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C., to say goodbye to four of them. There was mourning, but there was defiance, a mood reflected outside the church in rapidly changing attitudes to the Confederate battle flag that still flies over the state capitol. NPR's Joel Rose reports from Charleston.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: There were moments of wrenching sadness during the funerals at Emanuel AME church yesterday but also a sense of gritty determination to move forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing) I can't give up. I can't give up now.

ROSE: Speaker after speaker described the shooting as a pivotal moment in South Carolina's history, one they hope will resonate long after the music from the memorial services fades.

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NIKKI HALEY: I am sorry this happened on my watch, but we will make this right. We will make this right.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSE: Governor Nikki Haley and other prominent Republicans in the state now support removing the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, published a photograph of himself with the flag in one hand and a gun in the other. Even before that, many considered it a symbol of racism and oppression. And Rev. Jesse Jackson, a South Carolina native, says it's time for it to go.

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JESSE JACKSON: This made the South Carolina - that started the Confederate war within the Confederate war. This may be right here.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSE: The state legislature will meet next month to debate the future of the flag. One activist couldn't wait that long. Yesterday morning, Bree Newsome briefly removed the banner from its flagpole at the capitol before being arrest. Later in the day, a few dozen demonstrators gathered on the same spot to show their support for the flag, including Leland Browder of Greenville, S.C.

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LELAND BROWDER: This is not a flag hate. It's a flag of heritage, and we have a right to our heritage. And, you know, I'm from the South and proud of the South and, you know, proud of this flag.

ROSE: But that position seems increasingly out of step with people of all races in South Carolina and across the South who are ready to see the flag come down from public.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Would you like a sweet potato pie?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: No, not today.

ROSE: Earlier this week, I talked to Burt Story (ph) at a Bojangles restaurant in Landrum, S.C., a few miles from the North Carolina border.

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BURT STORY: I think it should go in a museum; it'd be fine there. It's part of history. It should be in a museum, but it doesn't need to fly as if it fits an active thing now.

ROSE: Story thinks that taking the flag down is symbolically the right thing to do, but he cautions that it won't necessarily change the way people think and it won't necessarily discourage the next Dylann Roof. That will take more than just a vote by the state legislature. Joel Rose, NPR News, Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.