RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Confederate battle flag hung inside the old North Carolina State Capitol last week to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is being taken down after civil rights leaders raised concerns.
The decision was announced Friday evening, hours after the Associated Press published a story about the flag, which officials said was part of an historical display intended to replicate how the antebellum building appeared in 1863. The flag had been planned to hang in the House chamber until April 2015, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of federal troops in Raleigh.
“This is a temporary exhibit in an historic site, but I’ve learned the governor’s administration is going to use the old House chamber as working space,” Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz said Friday night. “Given that information, this display will end this weekend rather than April of 2015.”
Kim Genardo, the spokeswoman for Gov. Pat McCrory, said the exhibit that includes the Confederate battle flag will be relocated, possibly across the street to the N.C. Museum of History.
The decision was a quick about-face for the McCrory administration, which initially defended the display. Many people see the flag as a potent reminder of racial discrimination and bigotry.
State Historic Sites Director Keith Hardison had said Thursday the flag should be viewed in what he called the proper historical context.
“Our goal is not to create issues,” said Hardison, a Civil War re-enactor and history buff. “Our goal is to help people understand issues of the past. … If you refuse to put something that someone might object to or have a concern with in the exhibit, then you are basically censoring history.”
North Carolina NAACP president Rev. William Barber was shocked Friday when he was shown a photo of the flag by the AP.
“He is right that it has a historical context,” Barber said. “But what is that history? The history of racism. The history of lynchings. The history of death. The history of slavery. If you say that shouldn’t be offensive, then either you don’t know the history, or you are denying the history.”
Sessions of the General Assembly moved to a newer building a half-century ago, but the old Capitol building is still routinely used as a venue for official state government events. McCrory’s office is on the first floor, as are the offices of his chief of staff and communications staff.
The Republican governor was in the House chamber where the Confederate flag hangs as recently as Thursday, when he presided over the swearing-in ceremony of his new Highway Patrol commander.