Jeffries leads charge against funding for confederate flag

House unanimously approves his amendment

July 9, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Calling the Confederate battle flag “a divisive symbol,” U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries spearheaded an effort to cut off federal funds to civic officials around the country seeking to fly the controversial flag from public buildings or facilities operating under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

On July 7, the House of Representatives unanimously passed on a voice vote an amendment Jeffries (D-parts of Brooklyn-Queens) sponsored to prohibit the allocation of federal funds in connection with the purchase or display of a Confederate flag on a public building or facility under the National Park Service’s authority.

The amendment, which is attached to an appropriations bill related to the funding of the National Park Service, specifies “none of the funds made available to the National Park Service by this Act may be used for the purchase or display of a Confederate flag with the exception of specific circumstances where the flags provide historical context.”

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Jeffries, who serves as the whip for the Congressional Black Caucus, said the passage of the amendment was an important step.

“By prohibiting the use of federal funds in connection with the purchase or display of the confederate battle flag, the House has chosen to embrace progress over division,” he said in a statement. “It is time to banish the Confederate battle flag to the dustbin of history once and for all.” 

The amendment’s passage comes in the aftermath of the racially motivated shooting deaths of nine African-American members of the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last month. The victims included the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor, who was also a state Senator. 

The suspect, Dylann Roof, has been charged with nine counts of murder. Photos of Roof posing with the Confederate battle flag have surfaced.

In the wake of the massacre, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the flag from the grounds of the state Capitol.

The South Carolina legislature voted 94-20 on July 9 to remove the flag after several hours of often emotional debate over the issue.

“The Confederate battle flag is a divisive symbol of oppression that has no place in a civilized society,” Jeffries said after his amendment was passed. “Our country has come a long way since the abolition of slavery, but there is much more to be done in order to eradicate the cancer of racial hatred.”

The Jeffries amendment is designed to codify into law a policy directive from the Department of the Interior that “Confederate flags should not be flown in units of the national park system and related sites.” The directive was issued June 24.

Jeffries is also seeking to eradicate Confederate symbols in Brooklyn. He recently called on the U.S. Army to remove the name of a street located within the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton that is named in memory of General Robert E. Lee.

General Lee Avenue is a main street within the fort.

“There is no good reason for a street to be named after an individual who led the Confederate Army in the fight to keep slavery and racial subjugation alive in America,” Jeffries stated. “It is my hope that we will do the right thing and find an appropriate local hero for whom the street can be renamed.”

There were signs, however, that the national debate over confederate flag isn’t over.

Two days after the vote on the amendment introduced by Jeffries, he took to the House floor again, this time to blast an amendment introduced by a Republican congress member that would have overturned the Jeffries amendment and allowed the confederate battle flag to be placed on graves in national cemeteries and sold in concession stands at national parks.

In a passionate speech, Jeffries implored his fellow members of congress to vote against the new amendment that had been put forth by U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California).

“Had the confederate battle flag prevailed 150 years ago, I would not be a member of the United States Congress. I would be a slave. Throughout the land, this flag must come down,” said Jeffries, who was standing next to a confederate flag as he spoke.

“The confederate battle flag is a divisive symbol of racial hatred and oppression. It is time to banish it to the dustbin of history. Shamefully, House Republicans scheduled a vote to confer congressional legitimacy on the confederate battle flag. In the name of decency, it must be defeated today, tomorrow or whenever the Calvert Amendment comes to the floor,” he said.

On Thursday afternoon, the House leadership announced that the Calvert Amendment was being pulled from the floor.

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