SACRAMENTO — The nationwide rally against Confederate symbols has hit the Golden State.
State Sens. Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) and Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) last week announced a bill that would prohibit all public schools, buildings, parks, roadways, and other state-owned property from using names associated with the Confederate States of America, a 19th century group of 11 southern and slave-holding states that fought the Union Army during the American Civil War.
The bill also calls for any existing places bearing such names to remove those names by January 2017.
Huff says he co-authored the bill because California should have no interest in enshrining the names of Confederate leaders or the ideas and symbols that represent the secessionist movement.
“While it’s important to never forget the mistakes made in the past,” Huff said, “we shouldn’t be in the business of paying tribute to those mistakes.”
Glazer agreed, adding during an interview with the Long Beach Press-Telegram: “We want our public buildings to recognize role models of our state and country, not [serve as] monuments to… reprehensible behavior.”
The Frederick Douglass Liberty Act – or Senate Bill 539 – comes to California amidst eruptions of similar movements across the country. In the wake of last month’s heinous murders of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., the message opposing Confederate symbols is clear: Ban the star-crossed Confederate flag from our public spaces.
Around the country, a spirited debate over the flag has ensued. South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, President Barack Obama, and dozens of other politicians have called for the flag’s removal from the grounds of the Palmetto State’s Capitol in Columbia.
In metropolitan Los Angeles, meanwhile, members of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable delivered a petition to Long Beach school officials this week demanding that they change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School. Lee was leader of the Confederate Army.
“The school in Long Beach is in a city that’s one of the most ethnically diverse cities in California,” the group’s president, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, wrote in an essay last week. “To have a school there named after one whose military prowess bolstered Southern slavery and Jim Crow should be cause for embarrassment.”
But supporters of the Confederate flag and other Confederate symbols say the items are symbols of southern pride and heritage and have nothing to do with racism. A pro-Confederate flag group, the Conservative Response Team, has even begun making robocalls to South Carolinians urging them to fight to keep the flag hoisted on the grounds of the state Capitol.
“Don’t think the PC haters will stop if Governor Haley gets her way, and the Confederate memorial is taken down and hidden away in a museum,” a transcript of the call reads. “Just like ISIS, Obama’s haters want our monuments down, graves dug up and schools roads towns and counties renamed. They’ve even taken the ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’”
For others, like El Camino College history professor Daniel Walker, the case to get rid of confederate symbols is not just about it being racist. He says there should be no Confederate symbols or associated names on public property in California since the Confederacy was an enemy nation that fought the U.S.
“That is like having a Nazi flag up for German people who want to acknowledge their German heritage,” said Walker, a research associate at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC’s Los Angeles campus.
“There is no reason anything should be named after or commemorate [the Confederate States]. It was a rogue nation, the enemy. It fought against the United States and because of it, lives were lost and property destroyed,” he said. “Then, we add the slavery issue in there. They were fighting for this thing we now know as an anti-humanitarian issue.”
The confederate symbols issue ignited last month when 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine churchgoers after sitting with them in a bible study meeting. Roof, who had posed on social media with a pistol in one hand and the Confederate battle flag in the other, confessed that he committed the killings because of his hatred for African Americans and his wish to start a race war.
Walker called Roof’s crime and the subsequent debate over the Confederate flag a “flashpoint” in history for black Californians. He said many blacks over age 50 have strong connections to Southern states and a deep-seated awareness of what Confederate symbols represent, since many of them had family who moved to the West Coast from the South.
“We know when we go and visit our cousins and family down in Mississippi that the Confederate flag is everywhere, but we just kind of allow it to happen. It is because there is not a considerable mass of people rising up and talking about it,” Walker said. “Now, gladly, it’s happened.”