Clinton says Confederate flag ‘shouldn’t fly anywhere’

Democrat seeking to be US president says flag a ‘symbol of our nation’s racist past’

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley calls for the Confederate flag, originally used as a Civil War battle flag, to be removed from the State House. Video: Reuters


As politicians across the southern US spoke out against the Confederate battle flag and the nation’s largest retailers pulled items with its image from their shelves, Hillary Rodham Clinton called the flag “a symbol of our nation’s racist past.”

Speaking at an African-American church just outside Ferguson, Missouri, an impoverished black community where protests against a mostly white police force erupted in violence last summer, Ms Clinton made a forceful plea to remove the Confederate flag wherever it flies.

She encouraged other retailers to follow Amazon, Wal-Mart, eBay and Sears in discontinuing sales of items that display it.

“It shouldn’t fly there. It shouldn’t fly anywhere,” Ms Clinton said of South Carolina, where a white gunman killed nine African-Americans last Wednesday during a Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

“That night, word of the killings struck like a blow to the soul,” she said. “How do we make sense of such an evil act - an act of racist terrorism perpetrated in a house of God?”

Ms Clinton, a Democratic candidate to be president, spoke a day after Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina called for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the grounds of the Statehouse in Columbia. Ms Haley, a Republican, called the flag a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

The Charleston attack forced the wide field of presidential candidates to wade into issues of racism and injustice and fierce debates in the South over the meaning and misuses of Confederate symbolism.

The suspect in the killings, Dylann Roof (21), had brandished the flag on social media and posted deeply racist tirades.

Vague statements

Until Ms Haley called for the flag’s removal, several Republican presidential hopefuls had issued vague statements or said the matter was a state issue that should be left to South Carolina. One Republican candidate, Ben Carson, who is black, faulted his opponents Monday for not calling “this tragedy an act of racism.”

Ms Clinton spoke out against the Confederate battle flag in 2007 when she told The Associated Press while campaigning in South Carolina that she “would like to see it removed” from the Statehouse grounds. But until Tuesday, she had not commented on the current debate.

In her discussion Tuesday with community leaders at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri, Ms Clinton said the flag’s removal would be “just the beginning of what we have to do” to combat racism.

She proceeded to list statistics about the economic disparities between black and white Americans, saying schools are more segregated today than they were in the 1960s, with 23 per cent of black students in the South attending majority white schools in 2011, slightly lower than the percentage in 1968, according to her campaign.

Careful choice

It was no accident that Ms Clinton chose a town near Ferguson to hold the campaign event, one of only a handful of public appearances on her schedule in the coming weeks. The early months of her presidential campaign have been marked by sweeping speeches about race relations and issues like criminal justice reform and voting rights that may particularly resonate with African-American voters.

Ms Clinton’s emphasis on race has been largely motivated by current events, with her campaign unfolding against the backdrop of riots in Baltimore this spring after the death of a black man who had been in police custody and, more immediately, the slaughter in Charleston.

Her approach also distinguishes her from her potential Republican rivals who have mostly only dipped a cautious toe into issues of racism. Candid talks like the one in Florissant could help Ms Clinton shore up support among the Democratic Party’s base who overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama during her failed 2008 presidential campaign.

Throughout the event, Clinton spoke frequently about her own Methodist faith and her regular Bible study classes and churchgoing. The Florissant church’s pastor, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, ended the day’s discussion with a prayer, asking the Lord to make sure Ms Clinton listens to the people she hopes to represent.

“There are those who are still suffering from injustice,” Blackmon said. “There are those who we still walk by every day and forget.”

New York Times