by Larry Smith
Last June, a gunman walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina and shot nine people to death at a prayer meeting. The shooter said his goal was to start a race war.
Pictures of the shooter draped with a Confederate battle flag triggered widespread controversy in the US. In the years following the Second World War, this 'southern cross' flag was flown as a symbol of resistance to racial desegregation. It was used especially by the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist group that targeted blacks.
The Charleston massacre led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse, where it had flown ever since 1961. As most people know, South Carolina was where the American Civil War began a hundred years before - when the state's militia shelled a US army garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour.
The bloody war that ensued was fought purely over the issue of slavery. The constitutional compromises reached at independence, which had allowed slave- and non-slave-holding states to co-exist, broke down when the anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860.
There can be no doubt about this. South Carolina's secession document clearly notes that, "A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of president of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”