AL gov. orders Confederate flags taken down from state Capitol

Published: Jun. 24, 2015 at 1:56 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2015 at 9:56 AM CDT
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A group stands near the Confederate Memorial commending Gov. Bentley on the flags' removal....
A group stands near the Confederate Memorial commending Gov. Bentley on the flags' removal. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WAFF) - Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered that Confederate flags around a monument in front of the state Capitol be taken down. The debate over Confederate flags being removed comes after

by a white man in Charleston, SC.

For the past two decades, Alabama has displayed four Confederate flags around a large monument to Confederate soldiers outside the Alabama Capitol. On Wednesday, they had all come down. During an appearance in Hackleburg, Bentley said that it was the right time to remove the flags at the Capitol. The governor says the future of the flags has not been decided, adding that they might end up in the First White House of the Confederacy.

Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis told The Associated Press that Bentley did not want the presence of the Confederate symbols to be "a distraction." She said there was no law prohibiting the removal of the flags by executive order.

Governor Bentley said he doesn't expect a negative reaction from his own party after removing the Confederate flags.

The Confederate flag was flown over Alabama's Capitol dome starting in 1963 at the order of then-governor George Wallace as a protest against Attorney General Robert Kennedy's visit to the capitol to discuss the Civil Rights Movement.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard issued a statement on the removal of the flag from the Old House Chamber in the Capitol:

"Earlier today I asked the Clerk of the House to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Old House Chamber in the Capitol Building. Given the current environment, it became obvious that the presence of the flag in that historic chamber would become a distraction during the upcoming special session, possibly lead to protracted debate, and avert our attention from the special session's main goal. By taking the proactive action of removing the flag, the Legislature can move forward in several different ways."

The President of the NAACP Alabama State Conference, Bernard Simelton, said he was proud of our governor for his decision, and he said the flag should've been removed a long time ago.

"We are glad to see that out of this tragedy something good is coming, and that's the removal of the Confederate flag," said Simelton.

MORE: TN Valley reaction to the flag's removal

Simelton said the young man responsible for the shooting had no idea what would come of this.

"Always look in a tragedy for something good to come out of it, and we're seeing a lot of good come out of that tragedy," Simelton said. He said he was glad our governor got ahead of the wave and was proactive in his decision about the flag.

Simelton said the symbol represents racism to him.

"It should've been something that should've been removed a long time ago," he said. "I know there are people out there that are upset, but that symbol is a racist symbol regardless of what people say. Anytime I see that flag, any time people of color see that flag... you can't help think back to slavery."

"We removed the symbol, now let's work on the hearts of man and start healing our nation so that we can move forward and really be the leading nation when it comes to human rights and civil rights," said Simelton.

SLIDESHOW: State flags of the United States

Gary Carlyle, State Commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans issued a statement saying:

"The Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is very saddened for the murders of nine good citizens in South Carolina. We are praying for the peace and comfort for the families of the victims. There are many untruths being said about our Southern Heritage. Many political people are pushing their agenda in these times of sorrow by misrepresenting Southern symbols to gain an advantage in public opinion."

The flag survived several lawsuits over the years that sought to remove it, but it ultimately came down following a federal lawsuit that in 1993 determined state law only allowed for the U.S. flag and State flag to fly over the dome. The man who brought each of the suits, longtime Alabama state Representative Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery), called for the flags removal from the grounds Tuesday.

Holmes said he called Gov. Bentley on the removal of the flags.

"I thought it was a courageous stand and the right thing to do," said Holmes. "It's a great victory and I'm very happy. It makes the state of Alabama look good. A lot of people still think Alabama is a backward state and I'm glad to see this change."

The order doesn't address flags flown over other state properties in Alabama. Other states have made announcements about the removal of the flag as well.

The South Carolina House passed an amendment to allow them to debate the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Virginia plans to remove the image of the Confederate flag from all state-issued license plates. In Mississippi, the House Speaker said it is time for the state to change its flag, which includes the Confederate insignia. 

The Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader said Kentucky must remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the state Capitol's rotunda. Also, leaders in Washington D.C. are taking a look at the statues in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. South Carolina was the last to remove the flag from the top of the capitol to another area of the grounds in 2000.

MORE: A look at calls to remove Confederate symbols across South

Copyright 2015 WAFF. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.