Even Jefferson Davis's Great-Great-Grandson Thinks the Confederate Flag Should Go

A Confederate flag is held up at a June 23 rally outside the South Carolina Statehouse, where demonstrators were demanding that the flag be removed from the grounds. Brian Snyder/Reuters

Bertram Hayes-Davis has spent more time than most looking at the Confederate battle flag.

It comes with the family. Hayes-Davis, 66, is the great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis. He serves as president of the Beauvoir Foundation, which promotes "education of Jefferson Davis and Southern Culture," and has traveled the country defending the Confederate president's legacy.

Still, in light of last week's racially charged shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, even he says it's time for the flag to come down.

"The battle flag is a historic symbol of a conflict and should be appropriately displayed in museums as such," Hayes-Davis told Newsweek. "But it isn't something that I think demands any public display."

A longtime emblem for white supremacists and "Lost Causers" glorifying the slave-holding South, the flag—and its presence on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds—has drawn national scrutiny in the days since Dylann Roof allegedly murdered nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. All of the shooting's victims were African-American; the suspect is white.

On Tuesday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley formally called for the removal of the flag from the capitol grounds.

Bertram Hayes-Davis is the direct descendant of Jefferson Davis, and formerly served as executive director of Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home in Mississippi. Bertram Hayes-Davis

"If that individual is representative of the flag, that is obviously the most horrendous thing that we could ever ask for to have happened," Hayes-Davis said, referring to Roof, whose apparent affection for the Confederate symbol has surfaced in photos and an online manifesto.

Asked if he believes the flag carries racist connotations, the former banker was ambivalent. "I'm not taking the position of stating anything that the flag represents in reference to any group. I'm just saying that if it's offensive and carries any connotation other than a historic artifact, then yes, it should be put in its proper place."

It's not the first instance Hayes-Davis has expressed discomfort with the visual emblem of the secessionist South. In 2014, he left a job as executive director of Beauvoir—the site of the Jefferson Davis home and presidential library in Mississippi—in part because of a disagreement concerning the flag.

"I worked hard to diminish and move the Confederate flag on the property and to expand the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library to reflect the entire story of his life," Hayes-Davis explained. Both directives were met with resistance from the board.

The site's new executive director, Greg Stewart, denies this account and says Hayes-Davis's departure involved money and a failure to provide bank records from his private foundation. Stewart said he's glad to have the flag on the property and described the South Carolina controversy as a "Taliban approach."

"The Taliban blew up the Bamiyan monuments in Afghanistan. That was a ridiculous overreaction to an inanimate object. That's what we're seeing," Stewart said.

Hayes-Davis now lives in Gulfport, Mississippi, where Davis is held in "high regard." He continues to speak publicly on the legacy of his great-great-grandfather, who he says deserves to be remembered for more than the four years he spent as president of the Confederate States of America. Before the war, Davis served as an army lieutenant, a U.S. secretary of war and a Democratic senator who championed the spread of slavery. Late in life, he published a memoir and urged Southerners to remain loyal to the Union.

"The American consensus is that he's wrapped in the Confederate flag, which actually represents a little less than 5 percent of his entire life," Hayes-Davis said. "He reluctantly accepted the duty that was given to him by the state of Mississippi and obviously the Confederate States of America, but it wasn't something that he wanted."

A century and a half later, the Davis descendant says that "the battle flag of the Confederate States of America is representative of something that very few if anybody wants to be part of."