Following the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre at Emanuel AME Church, a poll finds public opinion on the Confederate flag remains nearly the same as it was 15 years ago, with a majority of whites viewing the flag as a symbol of Southern pride rather than racism. Moreover, whites and Blacks remain deeply divided over the issue, suggesting much more work is needed to fight racism in America.
According to the CNN/ORC poll, which was conducted from June 26-28, 57 percent of Americans believe the flag is a symbol of Southern pride, only two points lower than in a 2000 poll. However, 66 percent of whites and only 17 percent of Blacks agreed. Meanwhile, 33 percent of respondents said the flag is more a symbol of racism, including 72 percent of Blacks polled, and only a quarter of whites surveyed.
Support for the flag is more pronounced among less educated whites. Among whites with a college education, 51 percent say the flag is a symbol of pride, 41 percent one of racism. However, 73 percent of whites without a degree say it represents Southern pride, and only 18 percent believe it is a symbol of racism.
Overwhelmingly, large majorities (87 percent of Americans, including 92 percent of Blacks and 86 percent of whites) thought the Charleston shootings should be considered a hate crime, while 41 percent (55 percent of Blacks and 37 percent of whites) said the shootings were an act of terrorism.
Further, 55 percent (73 percent of Blacks and half of whites) supported removing Confederate flags from government property, and 40 percent (59 percent of Blacks and 35 percent of whites) supported redesigning state flags with Confederate emblems or symbols to remove references to the Confederacy.
This poll comes as the June 17 murder of nine Black congregants at Emanuel AME by a neo-Confederate white supremacist has once again brought the issue of the Confederate flag on the front burner. The killings sparked demands once again to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house grounds. On June 27, Black activist Bree Newsome was arrested for climbing the flag pole at the state Capitol and removing the Confederate flag. Recently, Alabama has removed its four Confederate flags from the state grounds.
While seven states still have Confederate symbols in their state flags, Mississippi is the only state that still incorporates the Confederate battle emblem in its state flag. Ironically, the poll was released on July 2, what would have been the 90th birthday of Medgar Evers, the iconic civil rights leader and head of the Mississippi NAACP who fought for voting rights and was involved in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi and a boycott against white merchants. On June 12, 1963, Evers was gunned down in his driveway by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens’ Council — organizations that embraced the Confederate flag as a symbol of white supremacy.
Over the years after the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag became a symbol of white resistance to civil rights and racial integration, while the flag’s supporters strive to rebrand the flag as a symbol of Southern pride, and the Civil War as a struggle over states’ rights that had nothing to do with slavery and the oppression of Black people.
In 2015, it took the murder of nine Black people to resurrect the debate over the Confederate flag. Yet, it will take much more to alleviate racism in America, as the poll suggests.