Republican Congressman Steve King on Thursday said he regrets the “tragic, evil and brutal” murders of nine African Americans in a South Carolina church, but he opposes efforts to ban the Confederate battle flag from Civil War cemeteries run by the National Park Service.
“I have been listening to this debate over the last week or so and it troubles me greatly over symbolism that has been redefined by a lot of members of the opposite party,” King said.
The chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa this past week made clear he does not want the party of Lincoln associated with the Confederate battle flag after the driver of a Marion County parade float last weekend displayed three Confederate flags on his truck. King, however, said he sees the situation differently.
“I grew up in the north. The Confederate flag always was a symbol of the pride of the south from where I grew up,” King said. “My family, my predecessors, my ancestors were abolitionists. They went to war to put an end to slavery.”
One of King’s five-times-great uncles served in the Civil War and his grandfather from five generations ago was killed fighting for the Grand Army of the Republic.
“This country has put this behind us,” King said. “We’ve been through this brutal and bloody battle. We’ve gone back together for the Reconstruction and we’ve healed this country together and I regret deeply that we’re watching this country be divided again over a symbol.”
King said in a free country, “we have to tolerate” speech and symbols that some find offensive, so that people not only have the right to burn “Old Glory”, they have the right to fly the Confederate flag.
“When I go to Germany and they’ve outlawed the swastika, I look at them and I think: ‘We have a First Amendment. That can’t happen here in the United States because we’re open enough,'” King said.
According to King, the country cannot “erase” history, but should “keep it in front of us” so it can be evaluated by each new generation. King considers to the Confederate battle flag to be “part of the country’s heritage.”
“Everything about America’s history is not glorious. Everything about our history is not right in our judgment, looking back in hindsight, but none of us know what it was like for the people to live in that time and that era,” King said. “We can accept our history, we be proud of our history, we can unify our country, we can grieve for those who were murdered and we can preserve our First Amendment rights.”
King made two speeches on the topic yesterday on the floor of the U.S. House. After objections from Democrats, House Republican leaders tabled a vote on a budget bill that would have allowed the limited display of Confederate flags in cemeteries that are adjacent to Civil War battlefields and maintained by the National Park Service. The Republican speaker of the House said he wants to have a bipartisan review of the issue and that will include whether the Confederate flag and its image may continue to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol. The State of Mississippi’s flag is there, for example, and it bears the image of the battle flag of the Confederate Army.
As this debate was raging in Washington, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley approved legislation to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds in Columbia.