Momentum to Remove Confederate Symbols Slows or Stops

Alan Blinder, New York Times, March 13, 2016

After a white supremacist was accused of killing nine black churchgoers in South Carolina last summer, Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama acted decisively: Within a week, and without public debate, he ordered the removal of four Confederate flags outside the State Capitol here.

But that was last year. Now, not even nine months after the massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the momentum to force Confederate symbols from official display has often been slowed or stopped. In some states this year, including Alabama, lawmakers have been considering new ways to protect demonstrations of Confederate pride.

“The pendulum has gone the other direction, where it’s no longer about trying to take away the emblems,” said Dane Waters, a political consultant who worked on a failed effort this year to remove the battle flag from Mississippi’s state flag. “It’s now about protecting them and insulating them from future efforts, even after another Charleston-type shooting.”

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This year, legislators in at least 12 states have considered measures about how the Confederacy should be recognized. In some of those states, lawmakers sought to curb reminders of Confederate history, but there have also been bills, like proposals that advanced in Alabama and Tennessee, to offer new safeguards for controversial monuments and memorials.

“When the governor did what he did, it just punctuated the fact that we can’t erase history, we can’t whitewash it or push it under the carpet like it never happened,” said State Senator Gerald Allen of Alabama, whose bill would prohibit many monuments from being “relocated, removed, altered, renamed or otherwise disturbed” without a legislative committee’s approval.

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This year, Mississippi lawmakers did not pass any of the dozen bills that could have led to a changed flag. The debate recently entered the courts when a Mississippi lawyer argued in a lawsuit against Gov. Phil Bryant that the flag “is tantamount to hateful government speech” and “encourages or incites private citizens to commit acts of racial violence.”

Mr. Bryant has called for another referendum on the flag. In an email, a spokesman described the lawsuit as a “frivolous attempt to use the federal court system to usurp the will of the people.”

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On Thursday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia vetoed a bill that would have made it illegal for local officials “to disturb or interfere” with military memorials. On the same day, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida approved a plan to begin the long process of replacing a statue of a Confederate general that the state had added to the United States Capitol’s art collection.

But there is sharp division in Louisiana, where New Orleans officials decided to remove four Confederate monuments and spurred an uproar that led to legal challenges and a bill in the Legislature. {snip}

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