FLORISSANT, Mo. (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday the Confederate battle flag should not be displayed "anywhere," weighing in as South Carolina lawmakers seek to remove it from the grounds of their statehouse.
The Democratic presidential candidate called the deadly shootings of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, "an act of racist terrorism perpetrated in a house of God."
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Clinton called the Confederate flag a "symbol of our nation's racist past that has no place in our present or our future. It shouldn't fly there. It shouldn't fly anywhere."
Clinton joined with church members in the St. Louis suburbs, near the violent protests touched off last year in nearby Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man who was shot by a white police officer.
Clinton said she appreciated the work of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, and state lawmakers who are working to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. She also commended Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Arkansas-based company on whose board she once served, for announcing it would remove any product from its stores that features the Confederate flag.
She encouraged other companies to follow that example while noting that Amazon, eBay and Sears have done so.
Clinton has put America's struggle with race relations at the forefront of her presidential campaign in recent weeks and urged church members here to find ways to turn their grief, anger and despair into purpose and action. The Clinton campaign said she was initially scheduled to discuss economic issues during her stop in Missouri, but after the Charleston shooting, she said she wanted to hold the event in a church and discuss race.
Clinton largely avoided giving race relations a prominent place in her 2008 Democratic campaign against Barack Obama, who was vying to become the nation's first black president at the time. Yet she's leaned into a number of issues closely watched by African-Americans this time, discussing the need to change the criminal justice system, improve access to voting and help minority small business owners.
Clinton's campaign hopes to mobilize black voters in large numbers in the 2016 election, building upon the coalition of minority, young and liberal voters who powered Obama's two White House campaigns. The message has taken on fresh urgency since last week's church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, which happened shortly after Clinton campaigned in the city.
In Florissant, Clinton proposed a package of policies to promote racial equality, including tax breaks for struggling communities, help for minority and female entrepreneurs, early childhood education, "common sense" gun restrictions and universal voter registration. She told congregants that "all lives matter," a variation of the "Black Lives Matter" slogan that arose from the Florida shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Clinton cited her background growing up in the Methodist church, recalling: "I grew up in an all-white middle-class suburb. I didn't have a black friend, neighbor or classmate until I went to college and I am so blessed to have so many in my life since."
Pointing to the Charleston shooting, she urged attendees, "Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good."
The former secretary of state was greeted by the Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ, which hosted the event. She told the audience that the Charleston shooting shows "we also must take this moment to not just focus who pulled the trigger that day but on the policies, the people and the structures that are pulling the trigger daily."
Associated Press writer Lisa Lerer in Washington contributed to this report.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)