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Bentley orders Confederate battle flag removed from Alabama Capitol

Flickr user vondahawthorne
Flickr user vondahawthorne

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Confederate Battle Flag is no longer flying on the grounds of the Alabama Capitol on the orders of Gov. Robert Bentley.

Asked by a Birmingham News reporter if his decision was in response to the Charleston shootings, Bentley said, “Yes, partially this is about that. 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.”

Bentley’s decision comes after many leaders across the South have scrambled to voice their opposition to the display of the Confederate battle flag on public property after several pictures of the alleged Charleston shooter posing with the flag surfaced online.

Monday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) announced her intentions to work with the State Legislature to remove the flag from the grounds of their Capitol building.

Mississippi, the only state in the union to explicitly depict the symbol on its current state banner, has also begun to challenge the place it has in official contexts.

“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” said Republican State House Speaker Phillip Gunn in a statement Monday. “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.”

Alabama law allows the Governor to make such a decision unilaterally, without legislation.

The move will undoubtedly spark controversy and a heated debate among Alabamians.

In an unscientific poll conducted by Yellowhammer News Tuesday, 4,707 readers, or more than 70 percent of respondents, indicated that Alabama should continue allowing the Confederate battle flag and other flags of the Confederacy to be flown on state property.

There are several locations where the Confederate Naval Jack, also known as the Confederate Battle Flag, has flown in Alabama, including in and around state buildings.

The most notable display has been on the Confederate War Memorial Monument, where the battle flag flew next to numerous other Confederate flags. The 88-foot Alabama Confederate Monument on Montgomery’s Capitol Hill commemorates the 122,000 Alabamians who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The monument was dedicated in an elaborate ceremony on December 7, 1898 and the flags have flown ever since, until Wednesday morning when the flag polls were removed.

Montgomery is also home to the First White House of the Confederacy, where the first national flag, not the embattled rebel flag, flies. The many national flags of the Confederacy, which go unrecognized by most Americans, do not typically draw ire. It is the battle flag, which was adopted as a symbol of Lost Cause ideology and the Segregationist movement, that draws criticism for being a symbol of oppression.

The battle flag could also previously be found in the Old House Chamber of the Capitol building, where the governor often held bill signing ceremonies with the flag often visible in the background of pictures.

Always a heated topic, debate over the flag’s place in modern society has become particularly intense during the last week. Many Southerners, particularly those with ancestors who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, view the flag as a symbol their heritage.

At least one Alabama lawmaker took to social media Wednesday morning after the news broke to express his disapproval of the unceremonious removal of the banners.

“Today, the Governor removed a flag from the Capitol grounds that stood proudly above a Veteran’s monument,” wrote State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Arab) on Facebook. “A monument to men, and yes, women also, who fought, bled, and died in battle. The monument doesn’t represent hate. It definitely doesn’t represent a sick, twisted coward that goes into a church full of love and kills good, innocent people. It represents our history and that can’t be changed. It represents veterans and they should be honored.”