Hillary Clinton commended the groundswell in anti-Confederate flag sentiment at an event in Missouri on Tuesday, calling the battle flag “a symbol of our nation’s racist past.”
Clinton’s comments about the flag come days after Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine men and women at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The shooting, Clinton said, was “an act of racist terrorism perpetrated in a house of God,” but one where the men and women killed “did not die in vain, did not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The shooting has sparked a conversation about the Confederate flag that led Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, to call for its removal from state property.
“I appreciate the actions begun yesterday by the governor and other leaders of South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House, recognizing it as a symbol of our nation’s racist past that has no place in our present or our future,” Clinton said. “It shouldn’t fly there, it shouldn’t fly anywhere.”
In response to the surge in focus, some of the nation’s biggest retailers – Walmart, Sears, eBay and Amazon – also announced this week that they are prohibiting any Confederate flag merchandise from being sold in their stores.
Clinton commended those companies for their decision and urged “all sellers to do the very same.”
“We can’t hide from hard truths about race and justice, we have to name them, and own them, and change them,” she added.
But Clinton’s statement did not portray removing the flag from statehouses and stores as a cure to race issues in the United States. She said, instead, that it was “just the beginning of what we have to do.”
Clinton’s comments came during a roundtable event at Christ the King Church in Florissant, Missouri, a community just miles from Ferguson, where the shooting of a black male by a police officer in 2014 sparked protests and started an ongoing conversation about race and policing.
“Whether you live in Ferguson or West Baltimore, in coal country or Indian country, you should have the same chance as any American anywhere to get ahead and stay ahead,” Clinton said.
Clinton also used the phrase “All lives matter” during a story about her mother, an interesting remark given how the phrase “Black Lives Matter” rose to national prominence during the Ferguson protests. “All Lives Matter” was a response by some to say no lives matter more than others.
In 2007, Hillary Clinton said she believed the Confederate flag should be “removed from the State House grounds” in part because “we should have one flag that we all pay honor to, as I know that most people in South Carolina do every single day.”
On Saturday, as the conversation swirled, Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign’s press secretary, said the former presidential candidate’s “position is unchanged from 2007.”
After Haley announced her decision, Clinton tweeted: “.@nikkihaley is right 2 call for removal of a symbol of hate in SC. As I’ve said for years, taking down Confederate flag is long overdue. –H”
Other 2016 Democrats – like former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – have called for the flag to be removed. And a handful of Republicans, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, supported Haley’s decision to call for the flag removal.
Tuesday’s event was hosted by Reverend Karen Anderson of Ward Chapel AME and Pastor Traci Blackmon of Christ the King, United Church of Christ. Both women have been involved in the post-Ferguson protests and conversation, including ministering to the protesters and preaching about the impact of Michael Brown’s shooting in 2014.
Clinton’s campaign announced last month she would be visiting Missouri, particularly for a fundraiser hosted by Trudy Busch Valentine, the heir to the well-known St. Louis brewing family.
But in light of the shooting in Charleston and the unrest in Ferguson, a Clinton aide said the candidate instructed her staff to find a church where she could meet with community leaders and talk about their work on race issues.
Clinton has run headfirst into issues of race since announcing her campaign in April, a departure from her failed 2008 bid.
On Saturday, Clinton told an audience in San Francisco that “America’s long struggle with race is far from finished,” despite how “tempting” it might be to isolate the Charleston shooting as a random event.
“I know this is a difficult topic to talk about,” she said then. “I know that so many of us hoped by electing our first black President we had turned the page on this chapter in our history. I know there are truths we don’t like to say out loud in discussions with our children, but we have to. That is the only way we can possibly move forward together.”
Earlier in the week, Clinton called for a “candid national conversation about race and about discrimination, prejudice, hatred” in an interview, and said it was time for the United States to “face hard truths” about race in a speech before a host of Latino elected officials in Las Vegas.