Hilary Stout, New York Times, June 23, 2015
Entering a debate that has played out for years mostly in the political realm, many of the nation’s largest retailers abruptly decided this week to stop selling merchandise tied to the Confederate battle flag.
One by one, beginning with Walmart on Monday night, companies including Sears/Kmart, eBay, Amazon, Etsy and Google Shopping disavowed, sometimes in strong moral terms, merchandise that has been sold quietly for decades.
“We have decided to prohibit Confederate flags and many items containing this image because we believe it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism,” eBay said in a statement, echoing the sentiments of others in the aftermath of the fatal shooting last week of nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church and the arrest of a white suspect.
The retailers’ actions have illuminated a patchwork industry of T-shirts, mugs, beach towels and hundreds of other items bearing the Confederate symbol that are made everywhere from factories in China to tiny craft shops.
More than 29,000 such offerings could be found on the Amazon website Tuesday morning, including bikinis, shower curtains, ceramic coasters, cupcake toppers and even a tongue ring.
The company had remained silent as other retailers made their announcements. But by midafternoon, after emotional posts poured onto the company’s Facebook page, a company official confirmed that it would take down all Confederate merchandise.
Yet even as companies were vowing to discontinue the items, sales of them were soaring. Confederate flags jumped to the top of Amazon’s Patio, Lawn & Garden category, with purchases of some items spiking by more than 5,000 percent.
While large retailers were feeling public pressure to pull the items from their shelves and websites, a number of smaller companies refused to stop selling Confederate-related merchandise, no matter how controversial.
At Wildman’s, a jumble of a shop in Kennesaw, Ga., about 40 miles from Atlanta, that sells numerous sizes of Confederate flags, along with magnets, license plates and barbecue aprons, the 84-year-old owner, Dent Myers, said of Walmart and others: “They are chicken. Kowtowing to the herds.”