Virginia will start phasing out license plates with the Confederate flag — a move that follows a shooting massacre in South Carolina and the ensuing debate over a lingering symbol which for many is associated with painful memories of slavery.
The decision, announced during an event Tuesday by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week that Texas cannot be required to allow the Confederate flag on car license plates. McAuliffe called the symbolism of the flag “unnecessarily divisive and hurtful.”
"Although the battle flag is not flown here on Capitol Square, it has been the subject of considerable controversy, and it divides many of our people," McAuliffe said in a statement. "Even its display on state issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people. As you all know, I have spent the past 17 months working to build a new Virginia economy that is more open and welcoming to everyone. Removing this symbol from our state-issued license plates will be another step toward realizing that goal."
While Virginia was under court order to offer specialty plates with the Confederate emblem to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, in the recent 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court , the court said "just as Texas cannot require (Sons of Confederate Veterans) to convey 'the state's ideological message...(the Sons of Confederate Veterans) cannot force Texas to include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates."
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McAuliffe asked the state's Attorney General's office to "take steps to reverse the prior court ruling that requires the Confederate flag be placed on state license plates." The governor also directed Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne to develop a plan to quickly replace current plates.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said he supported the governor's decision.
"I support Governor McAuliffe's call to remove the Confederate battle flag from state-issued Virginia license plates," Kaine said in a statement. "The use of the flag by public bodies is integrally connected to celebration of the cause of the Confederacy, which is inimical to American values."
Proposals to ban the Confederate flag are gaining momentum nationally less than a week after a 21-year-old white man gunned down nine people at a historic African American church in Charleston in what police have said was a racially motivated killing spree.
Since then, calls for the flag's removal from statehouses, license plates and merchandise have increased.
Confederate-themed goods vanished from Walmart's website as the retail giant said Monday that it was pulling the merchandise in the aftermath of the church shootings. eBay announced in a statement Tuesday that it "will prohibit Confederate flags, as well as many items containing this image".
NASCAR also released a statement endorsing the removal of the Confederate Flag from South Carolina's statehouse.
Several Charleston area Confederate statues have been defaced with graffiti calling such emblems "racist". The flag wasn't lowered to half-staff along with the other flags at the South Carolina statehouse after the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week because doing so is under the authority of the state's General Assembly — as is taking it down.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol Monday.
McAuliffe applauded that move.
"I also want to commend my colleague, Governor Nikki Haley, for her leadership yesterday in calling for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the state Capitol grounds in Columbia," he said in a statment. "As Governor Haley said yesterday, her state can ill afford to let this symbol continue to divide the people of South Carolina. I believe the same is true here in Virginia."
Halimah Abdullah is a digital editor and writer for NBC News and is responsible for reporting, writing, editing and web producing federal policy news for NBCNews.com. Prior to joining the site in April 2015, Abdullah worked at CNN.com, where she reported, edited and web produced stories on federal politics and policy. In that role, Abdullah was responsible for helping cover Congress, the White House, federal agencies, and national political races.
A veteran politics and policy reporter and editor, Abdullah has worked for Bloomberg Government, McClatchy Newspapers' Washington Bureau, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Newsday, and the Dallas Morning News. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times and TODAY.com, among other publications. Her journalism and creative writing have won awards, been published in several anthologies, and earned her invitations to attend several writing colonies. Abdullah is also a writing professor who has taught at the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia and John Jay College and Brooklyn College in New York.