Two Years Later: South Carolina’s Confederate Flag in Storage Awaiting Display Exhibit

Two years ago, July 10, 2015, the Confederate flag was removed from South Carolina’s Statehouse grounds following the signing of a bill calling for its removal by former Gov. Nikki Haley.

Debate over removing the flag was sparked by a tragedy that happened less than a month before. On June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Roof had posted photos of himself with the Confederate flag.

The Confederate flag was first flown atop the dome of the Statehouse on April 11, 1961, to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Civil War.

In 2000, the South Carolina Heritage Act stated that the only flags that could fly atop the Statehouse dome were the United States flag and the South Carolina state flag. The flag was taken down and flew beside the Confederate Soldiers’ Monument in front of the Statehouse.

After the shooting at Emanuel AME in 2015, Haley signed a bill to remove the flag from the grounds. The bill was voted for by the S.C. House of Representatives and passed 94-20.

The Clementa C. Pinckney Act, named after the S.C. senator who was one of the nine killed by Roof, decreed that any Confederate flag cannot be flown on Statehouse grounds.

The flag was removed on July 10, 2015.

A joint resolution bill decided the future for the flag; it would be displayed in a permanent display that would commemorate the South Carolina soldiers killed during the Civil War at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia.

“This made sense to legislators because the museum was founded in 1896 as the state of South Carolina’s military history museum. It is the oldest continuously operated history museum in the state, and one of only 13 nationally accredited museums in S.C.,” said Rachel Cockrell, collections manager and interim museum coordinator at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, in a prepared email statement to the Aiken Standard.

Two years later, the flag is not on display at the relic room.

“It’s most disappointing that two years after the battle flag was hauled down from its flagpole on the Statehouse grounds that pledges to properly display it at the State Museum’s Relic Room have not been kept. It’s a broken promise,” said Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken. Taylor voted against the removal of the flag from the grounds.

“The flag from the Statehouse is a significant 21st century political artifact, not a 19th century military one,” reads the statement from the museum.

The museum has approximately 150 South Carolina military flags, many of which were carried into battle.

“We already exhibit authentic Confederate battle flags that were actually carried into battle by South Carolinians,” the statement reads. “These flags bear the marks of war – gunpowder smoke stains, bullet and shrapnel holes, and on a very few, the blood of South Carolinians who carried them.”

The museum’s staff members believe the flag that was removed from the Statehouse grounds should be exhibited separately from the other genuine military artifacts, according to the statement.

The museum does not have adequate space or funding to build a permanent exhibit apart from the ones already there, Cockrell said in the statement. The museum sent a feasibility study and budget – approved by its governing commission – to the S.C. Legislature, but it has not been approved.

“The museum is currently looking at a more economical, alternate plan that will sacrifice much-needed existing space to exhibit the Statehouse Confederate battle flag,” reads the statement.

In the meantime, the flag is secure and protected in storage, the statement reads.

“There was the expectation by many of the constituents I serve that their Southern heritage would be respected and the flag would find a new place of public honor,” Taylor said. “They don’t see the battle flag as a racist symbol as some would contend. They see it as a tribute to the dedication of soldiers who lost their lives in defense of South Carolina and their beliefs in that time.”

“For them, it is simply a symbol of respect and remembrance to these American veterans,” he said, “It’s time that flag finds a new place of honor, if not at the Relic Room then elsewhere.”

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