Heritage Act Keeps Confederate Flags Flying in South Carolina

Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

After nine Charleston, South Carolina churchgoers were slain in 2015 by white supremacist Dylann Roof, the nation turned a condemnatory gaze towards the Confederate flag flying at the Statehouse. After much protest, it was ceremoniously removed. However, the 15-year-old Heritage Act has ensured that the rebel flag still flies high across the state

The AP reports that the South Carolina Heritage Act, passed in 2000, ruled that the Confederate flag would be removed from the top of the Statehouse and moved to a memorial at the front of the building. This “compromise” did not impress the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); the organization emphasized that the flag still drew prominent attention to the state’s legacy of racism.

What’s more, the Heritage Act includes provisions clearly intended to protect the rebel flag’s status. It stipulates a two-thirds majority vote for any change to a state monument. Unsurprisingly, modifications are extremely rare, with one exception occurring in 2004: the name of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond’s biracial daughter was added to his statue. Meanwhile, a World War I monument still separates soldiers killed in battle into the categories “white” and “colored.” And in the Charlotte, North Carolina suburbs, those in support of the Confederate flag pointed to the Heritage Act as they fought to return the flag to a monument and to a courtroom.


In York County, Clerk of Court David Hamilton removed both the flag and portraits of Confederate generals during the renovation of a courtroom. But the dictates of the Heritage Act required him to return them to their original places.

South Carolina lawmakers remain committed to preserving the magnitude of this Act. Only last year, House Speaker Jay Lucas declared that exceptions or changes to the Heritage Act would not be considered by the legislature. And others even argue that the law is not powerful enough.

“The Heritage Act has no teeth,” South Carolina Secessionist Party member James Bessenger told the AP. His group recently pushed for the rebel flag to be restored to a monument in Walhalla, South Carolina after it was removed by Confederate soldier descendent Luther Lyle. Lyle lowered the flag out of respect for the victims of the Charleston massacre.

At first determined to fight the Secessionist Party and their supporters, Lyle decided against it when he realized the hefty legal costs involved.


“I’d rather spend that money on my grandkids,” he said.

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Let’s get real about this flag. It wasn’t continuously flown from 1861 until today. It was an obscure flag not flown very much at all from the end of the Civil War until after WWII, when it became popular with Dixiecrats. It gained prominence in the south during the fifties , and it didn’t fly over any government building In South Carolina until 1962.

What else was happening around that time? Oh yeah, the civil rights movement and the end of a Jim Crow.

Make no mistake: as bigots and racists realized they could no longer hang signs that said “whites only”, they began to hang this flag instead. It means the samething. It proclaims segregation as an ideal, and tries to enforce official inequality. It diesn’t belong anywhere, but especially not on any government building.