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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The names of Confederate generals still adorn street signs in Charleston’s public housing projects, and a heroic waterfront statue dedicated to the Confederate Defenders of Charleston still faces Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
Just down from the Emanuel AME church — where nine Black parishioners studying their Bibles were gunned down one year ago — a statue of Vice President John C. Calhoun, a staunch defender of slavery, towers above a park.
After the June 17, 2015, massacre, South Carolina lawmakers did what many people thought was impossible to achieve and removed the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. Across the country, as far away as Alaska, officials moved to strip streets, college dormitories and even lakes of the names of Confederates, secessionists and public figures who championed segregation.
But a year later, little has changed in Charleston, the city where tens of thousands of enslaved Africans first set foot in North America. It was here that the work of plantation slaves made the city one of the wealthiest in the nation before the Civil War. It was here where the bombardment of Fort Sumter threw the nation into that war in 1861.
A section of a street in front of the white stucco Emanuel AME church may have been renamed “Mother Emanuel Way Memorial District,” but all of Charleston’s Confederate commemorations remain intact—and longstanding racial issues endure.
“I think a lot of things happened out of the immediate emotions of how horrific the killings were. That’s the human side of folks and the politeness, particularly of Charleston, that we just had to do something. But then when reality checks us — the question is what is that going to cost us in terms of changing the way we think and do things?” said Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP.
A White man who police said hated Blacks and posted photos of himself with the Confederate flag has been charged with killing the nine parishioners.
“It was truly an attack on a race of people,” Malcolm Graham, the brother of victim Cynthia Hurd, said of the shootings. “After 400 years, the African-American community still is suffering and dealing with these types of issues relating to race.”
So why was there not a push to remove Confederate symbols in Charleston following the church attack?
Bernard Powers, a Black college of Charleston history professor, noted that it took a 15-year struggle to get the flag removed from the Statehouse grounds and that it happened only after the slayings.
“People see what it took, and ultimately that flag was removed because nine people were murdered,” said Powers, who co-authored a book about the massacre called “We are Charleston.” “I think people appreciate how deeply entrenched the reverence is for the Confederacy. For a lot of folks, it is a civil religion.”
As soon as South Carolina lawmakers voted to pull down the flag, they shut the door on any other changes.
Gov. Nikki Haley had pushed for the flag to come down but feared that going further would incite fights across the state, so she asked lawmakers to protect all the other flags and monuments while removing the Statehouse flag. [READ MORE]