MERY, Ala. — With no fanfare, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered the removal of four Confederate flags from a memorial at the Alabama State Capitol on Wednesday amid a growing controversy over their official display in the wake of the killing of African Americans at a South Carolina church.
The first to be taken down was the so-called battle flag, followed by the First National Confederate flag, known as the “Stars and Bars,” the Second National Confederate Flag and the Third National Confederate Flag. All four had been removed by 10 a.m.
“The governor does not want the flag to be a distraction,” said Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for Bentley. “There are a lot of other things we are focused on. We have a tremendous budget issue.”
Five workers, including two wearing yellow “landscape operations” tee-shirts, unceremoniously removed the flags by first lowering separate flag poles, then unsnapping and folding up the individual banners. As a handful of photographers recorded the scene, the men worked quickly, without comment, then left the enclosed area around the monument, locking the gate to the small fence behind them.
The flags were hung at the Alabama Confederate Memorial in 1994, a year after then-Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., ordered the removal of a battle flag that had flown over the state Capitol since 1963.
Meanwhile, Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi’s Republican senator, said Wednesday that it is his “personal hope” that the state would consider changing its flag, which depicts the Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner.
“The recent debate on the symbolism of our flag, which belongs to all of us, presents the people of our state a opportunity to consider a new banner that represents Mississippi,” he said in a statement. He added that he agrees with his fellow senator from Mississippi, Roger Wicker, also a Republican, that “we should look for unity and not divisiveness in the symbols of our state.
In Alabama, the 88-foot-tall monument to Alabamians who fought for the Confederacy was dedicated in 1898, although it had been planned since 1865. The cornerstone was laid in 1886 by former Confederate president Jefferson Davis before a crowd of 5,000, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, up to 100,000 Alabamians took up arms for the Confederacy. Roughly 13,000 Alabamians fought for the Union, including 10,000 blacks.
Senate Minority Leader Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, praised the move, saying he hoped it would show that the state had “grown beyond what its past history is.”
“We understand history has its place, but as we move forward being a United States, a united Alabama with all citizens recognized, I think we have to have the sensitivity to understand we don’t want to be intentionally offensive,” he said.
Richard Cohen, president of the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, said Wednesday Bentley’s decision was “a step in the right direction.”
“In today’s political climate, (the flags) sent a message of divisiveness,” he said. “I think some might argue they weren’t put up in reverential fashion, they were put up in a historical way. But I think the more prudent thing to do is what the governor did.”
Cohen called for the state to drop holidays celebrating Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Gary Carlyle, commander of the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he believed Bentley had “overreacted,” but declined further comment.
“I think we should be praying and working for those families of the nine citizens that are having funerals today and this week,” he said.
Official displays of the Confederate flag have come under fire since nine people, all black, were killed in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last week. Online photos of the accused shooter, who is white, show him wearing or posing with symbols of white supremacy, including the Confederate battle flag.
Ardis could not comment on the status of Confederate flags in the Old House and Senate Chamber.
Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, said Tuesday he would introduce a resolution in a special legislative session this summer to have all Confederate flags removed from state buildings.
South Carolina flew a Confederate flag at a Confederate soldiers’ memorial. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for removal of the flag on Monday. Taking it down requires a two-thirds approval of the South Carolina Legislature.
article by Brian Lyman and Doug Stanglin via usatoday.com