Today, many proponents of Confederate symbols do not appeal explicitly to racial animus, but the not-too-subtle message has gotten through. The politics of Confederate symbols bear more hallmarks of hatred than heritage. In a second part of our study, we analyzed public opinion data about the Confederate flag among Georgians and South Carolinians in the early 2000s, a decade before Roof “hijacked” the flag’s meaning, according to Haley.

In surveys of whites, racial animus correlates strongly with support for Confederate symbols, while affection for the South and knowledge of Confederate heritage do not. Moreover, African Americans in the South are far less supportive of the battle flag. So even though all Southerners ostensibly share elements of the same heritage, this symbol is interpreted through a racial lens.

Both proponents and opponents of these symbols continue to make the connection to race. Alabama state Sen. Hank Sanders, an African American, spoke against his state’s bill by saying: These bills “are protecting monuments that represent oppression to a large part of the people in the state of Alabama.”