There’s been a flurry of progress in recent days in both the public and private sectors on moving away from Confederate symbols. South Carolina, of course, is at the heart of the developments after last week’s massacre in Charleston, and an effort is underway to remove the Confederate battle flag from its capitol grounds.
The broader effort has spread quickly to other Southern states, including Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. Mississippi is ready to take a fresh look at its official state flag – a move endorsed this morning by Sen. Roger Wicker (R) – and Kentucky, with bipartisan backing, is weighing a plan to remove a Jefferson Davis statue from its capitol.
Today, in an unexpected development, the movement reached Alabama in a rather striking way. The Birmingham News had this report this morning:
On the order of Gov. Robert Bentley, the Confederate battle flag which stands at the foot of the confederate memorial on the state Capitol grounds was taken down this morning.Two workers came out of the Capitol building about 8:20 a.m. and with no fanfare quickly and quietly took the flag down. They declined to answer questions.
When Alabama’s Republican governor left his office, he acknowledged that he ordered the flag’s removal.
Asked for his reasoning, Bentley told the Birmingham News, “This is the right thing to do. We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise, we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down.”
The governor added that his office checked state law and determined he had the authority to act.
I don’t think anyone saw this coming.
It’s important to note for context that even in the Deep South, Alabama is a unique state. For example, Alabama is one of only three states to celebrate a statewide holiday honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday. It’s also one of only three states to recognize Confederate Memorial Day as an official state holiday, complete with closed state offices.
As we talked about a few weeks ago, Alabama also officially commemorates Jefferson Davis Day as official holiday, despite the fact that Confederate president had no meaningful connections to the state at all.
Indeed, Alabama is the only state to have all three – honoring Robert E. Lee’s birthday, Confederate Memorial Day, and Jefferson Davis Day, all with official holidays, all on the same state calendar.
For Bentley to simply make the call – no drawn out debate, no cajoling nervous legislators – would be a gutsy move in many states, but for him to do this in Alabama took some chutzpah.
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A surprise move in Alabama: Confederate battle flag comes down