Where The Confederate Flag Still Flies

Jun 19, 2015 at 12:48 PM ET

After a white man opened fire at a historical African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, the state capital lowered its American flag to half-mast. But a Confederate flag several yards away still waved at the top of its staff.

Even though the Civil War ended 150 years ago, the flag adopted by the Confederate State of America (CSA) is still displayed proudly on political buildings, state-issued license plates, T-shirts, inked skin and dorm-room walls. No other symbol of a failed rebellion receives legal protection from burning or is nearly as popular on Amazon. In a Pew survey in 2011, 8 percent of Americans said they display the flag in their home or office. That’s 25 million people.

On the same day the Charleston massacre took place, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Texas did not violate free speech when it turned down an application from the Sons of Confederate Veterans to produce license plates with the CSA flag. But vehicle owners in 10 states—Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia—can still order state-issued plates with the Sons of Confederate Veterans emblem, a square version of the CSA flag. By the way, Maryland wasn’t even a member of the Confederacy.

Until 2001, the Confederate flag took up three-quarters of the Georgia state flag. But that same year, the citizens of Mississippi voted two-to-one to keep the emblem present in the top left corner of their state flag—and that where it remains.

To some in the South, the “stars and bars” are a symbol of Southern pride and states rights—a celebration of a rich tradition of hardscrabble tenacity and self-reliance. But to others, it is a symbol of white supremacy and racism and a reminder that the South’s self-reliance included a heavy reliance on slavery. In the Pew study from 2011, 22 percent of Southerners said they have a positive view of the Confederate flag, while 41 percent of African Americans have a negative reaction. The majority of Southerners, 64 percent, said they didn’t have a strong feeling either way about the flag.

Until the early aughts, it wasn’t uncommon to see CSA flags at sporting events and in pop culture. The University of Mississippi has been trying to rebrand the Ole Miss Rebels for nearly two decades, and when Warner Bros. adapted the popular ‘80s TV show Dukes of Hazzard into a movie in 2005, they still used the same iconic car—a 1969 Dodge Charger, known as the General Lee, painted emergency orange with a Confederate flag on the roof.

From 1962 to 2000, the CSA flag flew on top of the South Carolina state house, symbolizing defiance against the Civil Rights movement. Now it stands several yards to the south of the building, beside the Confederate Soldier Monument. The flag’s placement and height can only be adjusted with a vote by the state’s legislature, which ended its session on June 5.