01:27 - Source: CNN
Should the Confederate flag still fly?

Story highlights

Flags have become potent symbols in aftermath of shooting at South Carolina church

Confederate battle flag flies on grounds of South Carolina State House

It has not been lowered to half-mast with other flags following massacre

(CNN) —  

Thirteen white stars lay inside a blue St. Andrew’s Cross. That design sits on top of a red square, waving in the wind.

Together, these elements become the infantry battle flag of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, known colloquially as the Confederate battle flag. Technically, there is a slight difference between the Confederate battle flag and what is commonly known as the “rebel flag.”

Today, the Confederate battle flag is flying high on top of its mast near the South Carolina State House in Columbia. The U.S. and South Carolina flag that adorn the Capitol dome have been lowered to half-staff, honoring the victims of a possibly racially-motivated massacre at a church in Charleston.

Flags have become poignant symbols in the aftermath of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting, whether it’s the Confederate flag flying on government property or the emblems of two notoriously racist regimes sewed onto the jacket of Dylann Roof, the man authorities have charged with committing the attack.

Confederate flag

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

What’s the controversy?

To some, the Confederate flag is a piece of history that symbolizes a Southern spirit of rebellion and independence.

“This is part of who we are,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said on CNN’s New Day. “That was the symbol of one side. To others, it’s a racist symbol.”

Many go farther and say it harkens back to the South’s history of slavery.

“It appears that the South fought the Civil War for slavery, and that the Confederate flag represented that political mission,” writes CNN’s Danny Cevallos.

Those calling for the flag’s removal have begun using the hashtag #TakeItDown on social media. A petition on MoveOn.org has already garnered more than 160,000 signatures.

Why does it fly?

It was part of a compromise, according to Graham.

As a result of the South Carolina Heritage Act of 2000, the flag was removed from the dome of the State House. In exchange, the act allowed for a Confederate flag to still be displayed on State House grounds, but not on the dome. The act mandated that the flag “must be displayed on the State House side of the Confederate soldiers’ monument on the State House grounds.” It can only be removed or changed with the enactment of a joint resolution passed by a two-thirds of the legislature. Also part of the compromise, an African-American memorial was built on one side of the Capitol, according to Graham.

The Confederate flag flies over the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2000.
Mark Wilson/Newsmakers/Getty Images
The Confederate flag flies over the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2000.

Graham and Gov. Nikki Haley have said that the flag’s presence will probably be revisited.

“I think that conversation will probably come back up again,” Haley told CBS.

South Carolina state flag

South Carolina state flag
Getty Images
South Carolina state flag

South Carolina’s state flag is an updated version of the flag it flew during the Revolutionary War. A Palmetto tree was added in order to symbolize the “heroic defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the attack of the British fleet on June 28, 1776,” according to the government.

The current flag was adopted in 1861, after the state seceded from the Union – meaning the same flag that represented South Carolina during the Civil War still does so today.

Rhodesian flag

Rhodesian flag
Selwyn Tait/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images/File
Rhodesian flag

What’s the controversy?

Dylann Roof is accused of killing nine at a historically-black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
from facebook
Dylann Roof is accused of killing nine at a historically-black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

A photograph tweeted by authorities in South Carolina shows Roof wearing a jacket with the flags of Rhodesia and South Africa’s apartheid regimes sewn on his right side, slightly below his heart.

Zimbabwe's flag
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images/File
Zimbabwe's flag

Rhodesia is a former British colony that changed its name to Zimbabwe when it became independent. A white minority tried establish an independent state in the 1960s to govern what was a black-majority nation, leading to a guerrilla war between the two sides.

The ruling white majority was accused of employing particularly vicious means to stomp out opposition.

Why was it changed?

A new flag was adopted at the conclusion of the civil war, when the country transitioned to a government that was more inclusive of the country’s black population.

Apartheid-era South Africa flag

South African flag from apartheid era
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images/File
South African flag from apartheid era

What’s the controversy?

At first glance, there’s nothing particularly offensive about South Africa’s older flag.

But to many it still represents the abuses conducted by the country’s apartheid government, which denied black people basic rights and enacted laws that enforced racially-based segregation.

South African fans watch  after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, in  June 1995.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images/File
South African fans watch after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, in June 1995.

Why was it changed?
The flag was changed the same year Nelson Mandela took office. The new flag’s multicolor nature is meant to symbolize the countries diverse makeup – “convergence and unification,” Fred Brownell, the flag’s designer, told BBC.

Shortly after its adoption, it became a powerful symbol during the country’s 1995 Rugby World Cup victory, with plenty of them frantically waving when South Africa won the championship on its home turf.