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Confederate flag steeped in controversy for 150 years

world Updated: Jun 23, 2015 08:20 IST
US shooting

A symbol of valor and honor for some, but of support for slavery and racial hatred for others, the Confederate flag South Carolina's governor now wants stowed has had a thorny history for a century and a half.

The contentious flying of the Civil War battle flag has been back in the spotlight since the June 17 massacre of nine African Americans at Bible class in a historic church in South Carolina.

Accused killer Dylann Roof, 21, is pictured on a website that includes a manifesto embracing white supremacy and pictures of him holding a Confederate flag and a handgun.

On Monday, Republican Governor Nikki Haley led bipartisan calls for the removal of the controversial Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol -- where state law currently bars it from being removed.

"One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come," she said, adding the flag "causes pain for so many."

It's a strange quirk of history that the Confederate flag today -- a blue saltire with white stars against a red background -- is a military flag and not the official flag that the secessionist states adopted in 1861, dubbed the Stars and Bars and similar to the US flag of that era.

So in fact the "Southern Cross," as the banner also is known, was created to look completely different from the official secessionist flag, which some feared could lead to deadly confusion on the battlefield since it so resembled the flag of the abolitionist Northern states in the 1861-65 war.

The saltire is an old Christian symbol, and the 13 stars were the states in the alliance at the time.

And the banner in time came to be a symbol, to some, of the South at war -- of the army of General Robert E Lee and of the "lost cause" after the South's defeat, and of the heroism of white southerners -- while overlooking the ravages of the slave system on which the South was built.

It racist connotations were underscored when it was embraced by the racist and violent Ku Klux Klan, and some pro-segregation groups.

Civil rights groups such as the NAACP have been asking for years for authorities in the US Southeast to put away the banner, which they see as a symbol of racial violence and oppression.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the largest and oldest US civil rights organization.