The horrific massacre of nine African Americans — Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Depayne Middleton-Doctor and Myra Thompson — on June 17 by white supremacist Dylann Roof in Charleston, S.C., has triggered an unprecedented anti-racist response to pro-slavery symbols — especially the putrid Confederate flag, which still flies in front of the State House in Columbia.
Activists have taken to the streets to remove as well as burn the Confederate flag in protests not just relegated to the Deep South, but virtually around the U.S. They have also painted Confederate statues with the slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” the clarion call of the new phase of the Black Liberation struggle against all forms of terror from police brutality to racist vigilantism.
The power of mass protest against the Confederate flag is starting to have a profound impact on popular culture, including in sports. Take NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), one of the most lucrative, influential professional race car events in the South and the country. The company was founded in Daytona Beach, Fla., in February 1948 by Bill France Sr., who in 1968 commissioned the building of the Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega, Ala.
France supported the 1968 presidential candidacy of George Wallace, the arch-racist, pro-segregationist Alabama governor. From its inception, NASCAR flew the Confederate flag on its grounds at all its events.
Due to the tremendous pressure of the anti-racist struggle, Brian France, current NASCAR CEO and grandson of its founder, announced June 29 that the Confederate flag will no longer fly during NASCAR events. This is a major development in the sports world, considering that the Confederate flag has been embedded in NASCAR culture since day one.
France stated, “We want to go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag. … I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there is no daylight [on] how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way. We’re working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events.” (grantland.com, June 29) France also denounced the Confederate flag flying in front of the State House in Columbia, S.C.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose late father is legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., agreed with NASCAR’s decision, stating in the same article, “I think it’s offensive to an entire race. It belongs in the history books and that’s about it.”
The next step for NASCAR to take is to ban fans from flying their individual Confederate flags in the stands during weekend races. The Daytona International Speedway, which hosts NASCAR’s national races publicly asked their fans on July 2 not to bring Confederate flags to events so they would be more “inclusive.”
In a separate action, NASCAR officials denounced the virulently racist, anti-immigrant remarks made by Donald Trump, billionaire and presidential candidate. They also announced that NASCAR will boycott the Trump National Doral Miami resort for its postseason Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity series banquet scheduled for later this year.