Posted with permission from NJ.com
The Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse, in Columbia, S.C. For 15 years, South Carolina lawmakers refused to consider removing the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds, but opinions changed within five days of the massacre of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, as a growing tide of Republicans joined the call to remove the battle flag from a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse and put it in a museum. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Following an overwhelming majority vote by the South Carolina Senate on Monday to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse, mixed opinions persist on what the flag stands for.

Loretta Winters, president of the Gloucester County NAACP, said the Confederate flag is more than symbol of Southern heritage -- as many defenders of the flag have contended. For Winters, it is a reminder of hundreds of years of pain and suffering.

"That flag was symbolic to a group of people who wanted to keep segregation going -- to have their own flag, their own state and their own country of white supremacy," Winters said.

Despite Monday's vote, a final reading of the measure is scheduled to take place in the Senate on Tuesday before moving to the South Carolina House for final passage.

Winters, like many in favor of the permanent removal of the flag, said in an interview with NJ Advance Media recently that the flag primarily symbolizes a period of racial segregation.

"Usually when you see that Confederate flag, it's not necessarily (about) the pride of the South, but the pride of the Jim Crow laws," Winters said.

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Monday's vote comes after years of debate to have the flag removed. But following the killing of nine black churchgoers at the Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, the debate was reignited with a movement of voices calling to pull the flag from Statehouse grounds.

"Our NAACP, they have been fighting for years to get that flag down," Winters said. "It took nine people to get killed in a church to get it taken down."

She added: "There is still so much work to be done."

Dave Hann, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Camp Private Meredith Pool #1505, in Hammonton -- an organization for descendants of confederate Civil War soldiers -- believes the focus on the flag is detracting from what he sees as a more important issue, the accessibility of firearms.

"What I don't understand is, you can still buy a pistol as a gift and give it to someone in South Carolina, just as the father did of that deranged lunatic did," said Hann, referring to the father of Dylann Roof -- the man suspected of opening fire at the Emanual AME Church who reportedly received a .45-caliber pistol from his father on his birthday this year, according to multiple news reports.

Hann, like many proponents who defend the flag on South Carolina's Capitol, the flag represents his heritage. Hann is the great-great-grandson of a confederate soldiers who enlisted in the Civil War in 1861.

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"So we take down the Confederate flag, and say people begin to start and say, 'So the whole idea of the Civil War offends me,' ... What's going happen next?" Hann said. "Let's start closing up Union monuments, let's start closing down Union battlefields -- where does it stop."

Hann said he deplores using the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate.

"The flag should never be used as a symbol of hate," he said.

He added: "Men were willing to fight and die for that flag."

But Winters compared the Confederate flag to the swastika used by Nazi German and the Nazi Party. A symbol she said evokes immense pain and anger. The Confederate flag, she said, shouldn't be any different.

"I don't care how much you want to sugarcoat or twist or spin, what it symbolizes; it symbolizes hate, division; it symbolizes slavery," she said.

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Spencer Kent may be reached at skent@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerMKent. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.