(Reuters) – Demand for Confederate flags at Chris Ackerman’s Civil War memorabilia shop in Pennsylvania has surged since violence at a white nationalist rally in Virginia this month reignited the United States’ debate over race and the legacy of slavery.
The trend has been similar for other sellers of the Confederate battle flag, retailers report. But now that most major U.S. flag makers no longer produce it, given the controversy over the banner, much of the new demand is filled by imports from China and other countries.
“We need to get more flags,” Ackerman recalled saying following the first order after the Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. His Gettysburg Regimental Quartermaster store, near a historic Civil War battlefield, and website sells $400 handmade flags to re-enactors and $40 ones shipped from China.
Ackerman said demand had jumped fourfold to as many as 40 sales a week, an increase he likened to the surge in gun sales that occur whenever new gun control measures are weighed or feared.
Large retailers – including Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), eBay Inc (EBAY.O) and Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD.O) – stopped selling the flag in 2015 after an image emerged of one being clutched by Dylann Roof. The white supremacist killed nine members of a Bible study group at a historic, predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Since then, a national debate has intensified over symbols of the pro-slavery Confederacy. Civil rights activists say they promote racism, while advocates contend they recognize Civil War valor and are a vital reminder of their Southern heritage.
The flashpoint for the Aug. 12 violence in Charlottesville was the protest organized by white nationalists against plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. A 32-year-old local woman was killed when a man crashed a car into a crowd of anti-racism counter-protesters.
Amid the renewed discussion of the Civil War’s legacy, many cities in…