The governor of the U.S. state of South Carolina has called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol, while the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart announced it would stop selling the flag in stores or online.
Governor Nikki Haley reversed her previous position on the flag Monday, saying that while the flag is an integral part of the state’s past, it no longer represents the future.
Haley acknowledged that to many it is a «symbol of a brutally oppressive past.» She said if state lawmakers do not take up the flag issue, she would call them back for a special legislative session.
The growing backlash against the controversial flag comes in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting of nine members of an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The suspect in the killings, Dylann Roof, 21, is a young white man who allegedly embraced the flag as a symbol of white supremacy.
Symbol of confederacy
The flag served as the official symbol of the Confederate States of America, a group of Southern, slave-holding states that seceded from the United States in 1861 and waged a losing four-year war of independence.
The flag remained a symbol of the racially segregated South both before and during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the growing chorus of opposition to the Confederate flag Monday. The Kentucky-born lawmaker called the flag «a painful reminder of racial oppression» and «that the time for a state to fly it has long since passed.»
Last week, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney demanded that South Carolina remove the Confederate flag from state Capitol grounds, calling it «a symbol of racial hatred.»
Romney’s statement was widely seen as intensifying pressure on current Republican candidates to face an issue of race and symbolism that has long vexed the party and divided the southern state since the end of slavery 150 years ago.
Also on Monday, the White House said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Charleston, South Carolina, Friday to attend the funeral services of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the church shooting.
Obama is scheduled to deliver his eulogy.