The New South Should Abandon That Old Flag

War's over.

Source: Tetra Images

 It should not have taken the deaths of nine blacks at the hands of a white supremacist in South Carolina to get politicians to acknowledge that the Confederate battle flag is a hateful symbol. But elected officials in that state and the rest of the South can now show they understand by retiring the flag from all official duties, ceremonial and otherwise.

On Monday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, standing beside the state's two U.S. senators, announced that it was time to take down the Confederate battle flag that flies in front of the state capitol. Anything less would be an insult to the families of the dead, as well as a continuing affront to the nation -- most especially to those whose ancestors knew the flag as a sign of subjugation, but also to those whose ancestors fought and died to preserve the Union, and others who have worked ever since to end racism.

The Civil War ended 150 years ago this month. There are few more powerful and meaningful ways to mark the occasion, and to celebrate national unity and racial equality, than for Southern states to stop conferring official status on Confederate symbols. A week ago, that would have been wishful thinking bordering on lunacy. But after Wednesday's shootings in Charleston, it now seems entirely possible -- and essential.

Hours after Haley's press conference, the Republican speaker of the Mississippi House issued a statement on his state's flag, saying that the Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner "needs to be removed." And on Tuesday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, announced that the state would remove Confederate flag symbols from its license plates

Other states have official links to Confederate symbols. They should join South Carolina and Mississippi in reconsidering the meaning of these symbols. And voters are right to expect those who seek the nation's highest office to make their views on this issue clear.

Too many Republican candidates for president tiptoed around the South Carolina flag issue, calling it a matter for the state to resolve. As a procedural matter, that's true. But as a political matter, this is a national issue. Giving official state sanction to Confederate symbols undermines the unity of the nation -- and the fight for equality that didn't end with the Civil War a century and a half ago.

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