Charleston Massacre Provokes Long Overdue National Debate Confronting Racist Ideology

Posted June 24, 2015

MP3 Interview with Graylan Hagler, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Washington, D.C., conducted by Scott Harris


The cold-blooded murder of eight black parishioners and their pastor by an avowed white supremacist at Charleston, South Carolina's historic Emanuel AME Church on June 17 once again exposed the deep racial divisions in the U.S. While the massacre was greeted by calls for unity and healing, a debate quickly ensued about the Confederate flag flying in a place of honor at the State Capitol in Columbia. Before committing the murders, the accused killer, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, had posted photos of himself waving a Confederate flag on a website that also featured his racist manifesto titled the "Last Rhodesian."

While many conservative Republican politicians in South Carolina, as well as GOP presidential candidates, had previously supported southern states’ display of the Confederate flag – stating it represented heritage not hate – the Charleston massacre has changed the contours of the debate. In a June 22, press conference South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, shifted her position on the issue, urging the state legislature to vote for removal of the flag from the Capitol grounds.

But many observers maintain that more subtle forms of racism and white supremacist ideology continue to flourish among many conservative activists. They point to the Republican Party's national push to curtail voting rights of African Americans and other minorities, as well as concerted attacks on social safety net programs that benefit poor blacks and Latinos. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C. Here, he discusses the links between the tragic murder of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina and the racist, dog-whistle rhetoric that has become identified with the GOP's conservative political agenda.

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