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Confederate Flag Debate Heats Up as Major Retailers Drop Merchandise From Shelves

Sears and Walmart have announced removal of Confederate flag merchandise from stores, while a Mississippi lawmaker has called for the emblem's removal from the state's flag.
June 23, 2015, 3:10pm
Photo par Erik S. Lesser

The Confederate flag has become a political hot potato in the US, as lawmakers across the country debate whether to take down the emblem — a sign of heritage to some and racism and slavery for others — from state buildings. Meanwhile, major US corporations have decided association by way of wholesaling Confederate-related merchandise is probably no longer good for business.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced at a press conference Monday her decision to remove the Confederate flag — seen by many as a symbol of racism in America — from the state Capitol grounds in Columbia, following the shooting on nine black churchgoers in Charleston on Wednesday. The flag had controversially remained at full mast on the lawns of the state building in the wake of the attack, even after it was discovered that the suspected gunman, Dylan Roof, who has since been taken into custody, carried the flag on his car license plate and had long associated himself with white supremacist ideology.

"We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer," Haley said. "The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand."

Related: Calls to Remove Confederate Flag Follow South Carolina Murders

Lawmakers in other states have since joined in the calls and petitions for the flag's removal from government buildings and symbols. In America's South, the flag has mixed connotations. To some, it is a symbol of Southern heritage, while others say it is a symbol of the slavery and institutionalized racism that permeated the Confederate States of America, the rebel union of secessionist states that existed between 1861 and 1865 during the American Civil War.

Mississippi Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn on Monday called for the removal of the Confederate battle emblem from the corner of the state's flag.

"We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," Gunn said in a statement. "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."

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp., which operates Sears and Kmart stores, also announced their retail stores will no longer be carrying flags or merchandise bearing the Confederate flag.

"We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment, whether in our stores or on our website," Walmart spokesman Brian Nick said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Sears Holdings spokesman Chris Brathwaite also told Reuters: "We are in the process of scrubbing our marketplace to pull those items down."

Numerous petitions to take down the flag from the capitol have sprung up since the shooting. One titled "Remove the Confederate Flag From All Government Places" had already received more than 545,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Texans are not entitled to a specialty license plate that bears the flag, which had been rejected by the state, despite the plaintiff's arguments that displaying the flag was a matter of free speech. The court said that the plates represented "government speech" rather than "private speech," which excludes it from First Amendment attack.

"As a general matter," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority, "when the government speaks it is entitled to promote a program, to espouse a policy or to take a position."

Related: The Supreme Court Says Texans Aren't Entitled to Confederate Flag License Plates