Finding it a symbol of racism and hate, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a Confederate flag removed from a Flag Day exhibit in the state Capitol after the chairwoman of the black legislators’ caucus took it down but event organizers put it back up.
Wolf took action Wednesday after Capitol police had been summoned to retrieve the flag and return it to the display.
The reproduction of an 1863 Confederate battle flag was part of a historical society’s collection of flags that have flown over what is now the U.S., including from territories and the colonial period.
Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, a Philadelphia Democrat, said she was astonished to see the flag as she walked through the Capitol’s east wing on Tuesday.
“I just did what I thought was right and I took the flag down,” said Brown, who heads the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.
She carried it into the chambers and gave it to the House speaker.
“We cannot continue to discount things that have happened in our government that have oppressed and have hurt people, have murdered people, have made people do things against their will,” Brown said.
Organizers and volunteers with the exhibit, sponsored by the Hanover Area Historical Society, realized it was missing when they assembled for a ceremony to mark the exhibit, intended to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Flag Day. They summoned Capitol police, who recovered it from the House speaker’s office.
“She had no right to do it without going through proper channels, given her position,” said Debra Markle, a historical society board member. “She knows what protocol is, and that was not protocol.”
The exhibit organizers returned it to the display before Wolf ordered its removal.
“The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism and hatred and he doesn’t think it should be displayed in a state building,” said Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for the Democratic governor.
Brown said police had told her she would be arrested if she touched the flag again.
Republican Rep. Dan Moul of Adams County, who helped bring the exhibit to the Capitol, urged Wolf to reconsider his decision.
“When you take something that doesn’t belong to you, that’s an issue, whether you like it or not,” Moul said. “What’s next? Somebody doesn’t like one of the statues in here and they take it down on their own?”
The governor’s spokesman said two other Confederate reproductions were also removed from the exhibit. The agency that currently has them plans to turn them back over to the historical society.
Markle said the 50 flags on display were exhibited in 1966 in the U.S. and Pennsylvania capitols.