On a summer night in June, a lone gunman took out a .45-caliber Glock pistol and fatally shot nine churchgoers during a prayer service in Charleston, South Carolina. For the public, the murders registered as reprehensible and racially motivated, as the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, made his personal biases clear in online rants and photographs. For hospitality professionals, the shootings struck an even deeper nerve: The crime took place at a meeting—a faith-based one, no less.
Roof’s anti-black paranoia aside, he surely didn’t intend for his heinous actions to spark a dialogue on the Confederate flag, never mind push for the flag itself to be removed from his state’s Capitol. Yet thanks to the location he chose (South Carolina, the only state still officially flying the Stars and Bars at that time) and his own social media postings (posing with both the flag and guns), Roof reignited the fiery debate on
how Americans view the Confederacy’s most enduring icon.
After a chorus of complaints, South Carolina’s legislature voted to take down its Confederate flag in mid-July. Still, the flag remains a ubiquitous presence across the South, from souvenir shops to license plates to promotional giveaways at sporting events—an image that most people, attendees included, can’t miss. It’s exactly the type of hot-button issue planners considering a Southern meeting would do almost anything to avoid.