WASHINGTON: The trickle of US companies abandoning Confederate flag merchandise became a flood Tuesday, after mega-retailer Walmart and online giant Amazon announced they, too, would no longer stock items bearing the controversial banner.
Sears, Kmart and online marketplace Ebay joined Walmart — the world’s largest retailer and a staple in the South — in abandoning goods bearing the image of the Confederate battle flag. It is seen by some as a symbol of Southern heritage, but by others as a racist relic of a bygone era.
Major retailers rushed to distance themselves from the controversial symbol after last week’s deadly attack on a black church in South Carolina, and comments from the attacker that suggested he drew inspiration from the Confederate flag, as well as white supremacist iconography.
Amazon’s moving joining the other retailers was disclosed to AFP by a company official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Still, as of Tuesday afternoon searches on Amazon for Confederate flag related items did turn up avenues for getting such goods.
Meanwhile, US news reports said that Civil War enthusiasts — apparently worried that they no longer will be able to easily get their hands on Confederate symbols — have been snapping up flags and other Confederate flag-adorned merchandise online.
Prior to the announcement by the company official, sales of Amazon’s most popular Confederate flags rocketed by more than 3,600 percent in 24 hours, according to the online retailer’s website.
The blistering increase in sales for the rebel flag comes as many brick and mortar stores pull merchandise bearing the banner.
Civil rights activists have long pushed for it to be removed from official use, and the debate around it has returned to the spotlight since last week’s massacre in Charleston, which left nine people dead at the hands of an alleged white supremacist who was seen in pictures with the banner.
“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer,” Walmart spokesman Brian Nick said in a statement Monday.
“We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment – whether in our stores or on our web site,” he said.
The company’s CEO Doug McMillon said in a television interview Tuesday that he had not even known that Walmart carried Confederate flag merchandise.
“We just don’t want to sell products that makes anyone feel uncomfortable and we felt like that was the case,” he said.
“This was the right thing to do,” he said.
South Carolina’s Republican Governor Nikki Haley led growing bipartisan calls Monday for the removal of the flag from the grounds of the state capitol after the Charleston shooting.
A website apparently created by accused gunman Dylann Roof, 21, includes a racist screed and photographs of him holding a Confederate flag and a handgun.
Roof has been charged with the June 17 rampage at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston during a Bible study class. AFP