For generations, the Confederate battle emblem waved over South Carolina’s state capitol building, ostensibly to mark the centennial of the Civil War and honor the fallen. For many others it signified the darkness rooted in America’s history. The rebel flag withstood decades of opposition, prevailing in a 1994 nonbinding referendum where three out of four GOP primary voters agreed to keep the symbol in place. The legislature passed a compromise six years later, moving the flag from the capitol dome to the Confederate Soldier Monument elsewhere on statehouse grounds.
The Confederate symbol was still soaring at the capitol last Wednesday, when a gunman walked into a historic black church and opened fire, killing nine people. Federal authorities have since launched a hate crime investigation as photos and documents poured in of the assailant posing with the rebel flag and details emerge of his manifesto preaching white supremacy.
South Carolina lawmakers are once again in the midst of a reckoning over the vestiges of racism associated with the Confederate flag — but in the days since the tragic massacre in Charleston, there are signs the entire nation may be ready to abandon the symbol entirely.
Retailers and manufacturers are pulling Confederate merchandise: Since South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday called for the flag’s removal from outside the state capitol, a growing number of America’s major retailers — including Walmart, Amazon, eBay, Target, Etsy.com and Sears — have vowed to yank Confederate-related merchandise both online and in stores across the country. Prior to the moves, Confederate flag decor could be found on everything from pocket knifes to lady’s bikinis. Since the announcement that retailers would pull the merchandise, sales of the items have skyrocketed in online marketplaces. In one case on Amazon, sales for a single flag were up 3,600% from the day before.
“Our intention is never to offend. We all recognize the great sensitivity around this and have removed the item from our website,” Target told CNBC after pulling a Confederate costume from its online store.
Flag wholesaler and manufacturer Valley Forge Flag Co. pledged to completely eliminate its line of Confederate flags from its list of future products.
“We hope that this decision will show our support for those affected by the recent events in Charleston and, in some small way, help to foster racial unity and tolerance in our country,” the company wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Google has also blocked ads that feature the Confederate flag, according to the Associated Press, including those that appear on Google Shopping.
Clinton ups pressure while her GOP competitors take a muted tone: Calling the Confederate emblem a “symbol of our nation’s racist past that has no place in our present or our future,” Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton applauded the companies that had taken an active role against profiting off the rebel flag.
“I urge all sellers to do the very same,” she said at a campaign stop in Missouri Tuesday.
As msnbc’s Benjy Sarlin reports, many Republican 2016 hopefuls have either been slow to react to the growing momentum to condemn Confederate symbolism or have kept their responses so vague that they’ve avoided staking a clear position on the issue. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, on Tuesday became the last to weigh in.
“I think the flag is inescapably a symbol of human bondage and slavery, and particularly when people use it obviously for murder and to justify hatred so vicious that you would kill somebody I think that that symbolism needs to end, and I think South Carolina is doing the right thing,” he told the radio station WKRO.
South Carolina one step closer to removing the rebel flag: The South Carolina House voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to address whether to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol building. The state Senate is expected to take up a similar procedural measure soon. It’s expected that lawmakers will actually take a full vote on the issue later this summer.
The move comes after Haley’s forceful call for the flag’s removal. “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds,” Haley said to rounds of applause at a press conference Monday. “By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are in heaven.”
Leaders in other states are taking note: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, on Tuesday said he hopes to phase out use of the Confederate flag in all state-issued license plates.
“Although the battle flag is not flown here on Capitol Square, it has been the subject of considerable controversy, and it divides many of our people,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “Even its display on state-issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people.”
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn on Monday night also called for the removal of the emblem from the state’s flag. ”As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag,” he said in a statement.
On a related note: The Supreme Court also last week ruled that Texas is allowed to reject novelty license plates that feature the Confederate battle emblem.
Confederate symbols still show up in five state flags: As NBC News points out, at least five southern states have clung to the vestiges of Confederate symbolism, incorporating elements of the blue “X” and white-starred battle emblem into their own state flags.
Those five states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi — have some or all variations marking the old Confederacy, two of which were endorsed by voter referendums in the last turn of the century. In Mississippi, the full Confederate battle emblem is the most prominent feature of the state flag, embedded in the corner of broad red, white and blue stripes.