The repercussions from last week’s mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina continued to spread on Wednesday, as the Governor of Alabama took down the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol, both U.S. Senators from Mississippi urged a review of their state flag, and some black lawmakers in Congress called for the removal of statues in the U.S. Capitol honoring leaders of the Confederacy.
“I think it’s a testament to America that people can wake up one day, and look honestly at reality, and then change their minds on a deeply held belief,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) of the change of heart on the Confederate flag.
“We need to get rid of this divisive symbol of hatred,” Johnson told me off the House floor.
A few steps away, the news was also welcomed by civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).
“I’m very pleased; I know Gov. Bentley of Alabama,” Lewis said. “Alabama is my home state.”
But when asked about one of Georgia’s two statues in the U.S. Capitol – that of Alexander Stephens – Lewis turned steely, and made clear he wants that marble likeness replaced by his state legislature.
“I want to see it go,” Lewis said. “I don’t like taking young people on a tour and telling them that this was the Vice President of the Confederacy.”
“We have to get our own house in order,” Lewis said. “We have to have a cleansing in this place.”
Stephens may be best known for a speech he gave in Savannah, Georgia before the shooting started in the Civil War – known as the “Cornerstone Speech” – in which he bluntly set out the differences between North and South.
“They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man,” Stephens said of slavery opponents.
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition,” Stephens continued.
“I don’t like seeing it,” Lewis said flatly of the Stephens statue, which is located in the old chamber of the House of Representatives on the second floor of the Capitol, just a dozen feet or so from a statue of Rosa Parks.
“Vice President of the Confederacy,” it says clearly on the Stephens statue.
Stephens is not the only Confederate era statue that may face scrutiny, as the Capitol is also home to statues of other Confederate leaders, like Robert E. Lee (Virginia) and Jefferson Davis (Mississippi), as well as statues to several other Confederate military heroes.
“This Capitol represents the United States of America,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who suggested to reporters that Confederate statues be moved to a museum.
“They did everything they could to split away from this government,” Thompson said, as he argued that the Congress should not even display the flag of his home state of Mississippi, because of the Confederate emblem on that flag.
In another stunning turn of events on Wednesday, that Mississippi flag also drew fire from the state’s two Republican U.S. Senators.
“As a proud citizen of Mississippi, it is my personal hope that the state government will consider changing the state flag,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), who had earlier steered clear of calling for any change in the flag of the Magnolia State.
Cochran followed the lead of fellow Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who said, “our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying.”