Take Down That Flag, South Carolina

A bad symbol.

Photographer: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

South Carolina has scheduled another debate over the fate of the Confederate battle flag. This time it can't be allowed to end in an unsatisfying compromise: The flag has no place flying on the grounds of the state capitol.

The flag's current position is itself a product of a law passed in 2000 that brought the flag down from atop the state capitol dome and put it amid a Confederate veterans memorial. The issue is so fraught that a legislative supermajority is required to remove the flag.

The claim that the flag must be honored above other elements of regional “heritage” is a remarkable one. Southern heritage is far too rich to be contained in the South. American arts and letters were for a long time dominated by Southerners, including one of the first Americans to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The music of the South -- country, blues and their glorious devil spawn, rock 'n' roll -- swept every city and holler of the continent and went on to shape popular music worldwide in a way that no other region on earth can claim. Southern cuisine and hospitality are justly venerated.

The heritage of the Confederate battle flag is a very different thing. The flag accompanied and rallied Confederate troops at war. Whether those troops fought bravely or not is hardly the most salient point. It's what they fought for that matters: the preservation of slavery. The re-emergence of the flag in the mid-20th century, with the express purpose of rallying racist opposition to civil and human rights for black Americans, only deepened the flag's association with racist violence.

There is no mystery to what this flag symbolizes. Yet too many political leaders are fearful of offending those who either glorify or whitewash the racist past. Thankfully, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Monday is expected to call for the flag to be removed. U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott are expected to join the rising chorus. The legislature should waste no time in making the necessary changes to state law.

The Confederate battle flag is an essential piece of American history. It is also a grievous affront to human dignity, one that has dragged America down for too long. Let this be the final debate.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.