Dianne Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco and the longest-serving U.S. Senator in California history passed away at the age of 90 on September 28, 2023. Throughout her long career, Feinstein was a champion of gun control and a trailblazer for women in politics. However, her legacy was also marred by a controversy involving the Confederate flag.
In February 2019, a group supporting Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont resurrected a 35-year-old controversy in a widely shared Facebook post critical of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. The post claimed that Feinstein had repeatedly reinstalled a Confederate battle flag before San Francisco City Hall during her tenure as mayor in the 1980s.
The post included a meme containing black-and-white photographs of a man atop a flagpole surrounded by demonstrators, along with the following text: “1984: Protestor seizes confederate flag their city’s mayor repeatedly flew in front of City Hall. (The city was San Francisco, and the mayor was Senator Dianne Feinstein.)”
The meme was taken (without attribution) from a December 2017 tweet posted on the Twitter account @steckel: “1984: Protestor seizes confederate flag their city’s mayor repeatedly flew in front of…”.
The controversy surrounding Feinstein and the Confederate flag is rooted in a series of events in San Francisco in the early 1980s. In 1984, Richard Bradley climbed a flagpole in front of City Hall and removed a Confederate battle flag flying there. Bradley, who was African American, said he was motivated by the flag’s association with slavery and racism.
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After Bradley took the flag down, then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein ordered the Confederate flag be flown again. She eventually changed her mind and had the flag removed permanently. However, the controversy resurfaced in 2015 when the San Francisco Bay View newspaper published an article claiming that Feinstein had repeatedly flown the Confederate flag in front of City Hall.
The article was widely criticized for being misleading and inaccurate. While it is true that Feinstein initially ordered the flag to be flown again after Bradley removed it, she quickly reversed her decision and had the flag removed permanently. No evidence suggests that she ever reinstalled the flag after that.
The controversy surrounding Feinstein and the Confederate flag resurfaced in 2020 when a San Francisco school board considered renaming a local elementary school named after her. The renaming committee cited the Confederate flag controversy as one of the reasons for the proposed name change. However, the proposal was ultimately dropped after widespread criticism.
Despite the controversy, Feinstein remained a popular and influential figure in California politics until she died in 2023. Her legacy is a complex one, marked by both achievements and controversies.