A Confederate flag hanging outside the Alabama state Capitol was taken down Wednesday morning, continuing a remarkable surge of activity that has swept through the South and beyond in recent days.
Bentley acted to remove “a distraction from other state issues,” a spokeswoman said in an e-mail Wednesday morning.
“This is the right thing to do,” Bentley told a reporter from AL.com. “We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise, we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down.”
Symbols of the Confederacy, seemingly ubiquitous and unmovable in Southern states, have long been the subject of debate, but that argument has swiftly and strongly shifted in one particular direction.
After a white gunman opened fire inside a church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine black parishioners — a massacre that authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime — an outcry built over the Confederate flag flying on that state’s Capitol grounds. This discussion gained steam when photos emerged of the accused gunman, Dylann Roof, posing with the Confederate flag.
Still, even as legislators in Columbia, S.C., moved rapidly to discuss whether they would remove that particular flag, the movement against the flag began spreading to unexpected places. Businesses such as Amazon, Wal-Mart, eBay and Sears said they would stop selling merchandise with the emblem.
But even more surprisingly, prominent voices in other states questioned flags and statues honoring the Confederacy, as governors and high-ranking officials from Virginia to Mississippi spoke out about such symbols.
In Mississippi, the last state with a Confederate emblem in its flag, the top Republican in the state House of Representatives called for the Confederate battle cross to be removed from the upper left corner of his state’s flag. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) spoke in Richmond, the former Confederate capital, about removing the flag from state-issued specialty license plates for the Sons of Confederate Veterans group.
[This post has been updated.]