Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Southern Studies


Southern Studies

First Advisor

Andy Harper

Second Advisor

Ted Ownby

Third Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Relational Format



Until July 2000, three Confederate battle flags flew at the South Carolina State House—one in each Legislative chamber and a third on top of the State House dome, on the same pole and just below the U.S. flag and the state’s Palmetto flag. A legislative compromise that year removed the flags from the State House to a prominent site 100 yards away in front of the building, next to a memorial to South Carolina’s Confederate dead. Though it only moved the flag a short distance and to an arguably more visible location, the 2000 compromise was the culmination of over a decade of intense debate that convulsed the state’s political culture and deeply divided South Carolinians. In June 2015, a young white man named Dylann Roof entered a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina and gunned down nine African Americans, purely because of their race. The murders sparked national outrage and reignited intense debate over the Confederate flag’s continued presence at the South Carolina State House. Unlike fifteen years earlier and other failed efforts, this time legislation to remove the Confederate battle flag passed both houses of the General Assembly within two weeks of introduction. Less than a month after the horrific massacre, the last Confederate battle flag on South Carolina State House grounds was furled. This thesis examines the lengthy debate over the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina within the context of the larger culture war taking place in the South over the region’s public symbols. The flag debate in South Carolina endures as the longest and most divisive battle of this culture war. This thesis investigates the particular social, historical, and political influences that caused the debate to unfold as it did in the state. It also evaluates the specific factors, or pressures, that generated the momentum necessary to move the Confederate flag on State House grounds in 2000 and to finally oust it in 2015. The analysis concludes that South Carolina lawmakers were motivated more by political expediency than by a commitment to racial equality and social change.



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