By Edward McAllister
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Prominent U.S. flag makers said on Tuesday they will stop manufacturing and selling Confederate battle flags in the wake of last week's attack on worshipers at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Reggie VandenBosch, vice president of sales at the privately owned Valley Forge Flag, said the Pennsylvania-based company came to the decision as pressure grew on South Carolina to remove the banner from outside the State House in Columbia.
Annin Flagmakers, based in Roseland, New Jersey, announced later on Tuesday that it too would stop making the flag used by the pro-slavery Confederate states during the American Civil War of the 1860s.
Eder Flag Manufacturing, a flag maker based in Wisconsin, also said it would no longer sell or manufacture Confederate flags because of the Charleston shooting.
While some in South Carolina see the flag as a reminder of the state's proud history of defying federal authority, many others view it as a shameful tribute to the institution of slavery, once a pillar of the U.S. South's plantation economy.
"We hope that this decision will show our support for those affected by the recent events in Charleston and, in some small way, help to foster racial unity and tolerance in our country," Valley Forge Flag said in a statement.
The 133-year-old company sells millions of flags each year, VandenBosch said, with Confederate flags making up only a tiny slice of that business.
Annin makes some 10 million flags every year, and only about 1,000 of them are Confederate flags, said Mary Repke, the company's vice president of marketing.
The flags are popular in Civil War re-enactments, she said.
According to Annin's website, the company supplied the U.S. flags for Union troops during the Civil War, and an Annin flag draped the coffin of slain U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.
According to Valley Forge Flag's website, its American flags accompanied astronauts on Apollo space missions and landing parties on the beaches of Normandy during World War Two.
Eder said it made its decision because longtime former owner Eugene Eder fought in World War II “against the forces of bigotry, hatred and tyranny” and wanted to produce American flags as symbols of freedom and opportunity.
“Our hope moving forward is that all communities are able to live together in unity so that everyone can experience the freedom and opportunity for which Mr. Eder and so many other veterans fought,” said Jodi Goglio, chief operating officer, in a statement.
Supporters say the Confederate flag is a reminder of South Carolina's heritage and a memorial to Southern casualties during America's 1861-65 Civil War.
The flag, however, has also long been embraced by white supremacists. Last week, photos emerged online of Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white man charged with murdering nine worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, posing with the flag.
The photographs prompted renewed calls for the Confederate flag to be removed from the capitol grounds.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Monday called on lawmakers to take down the flag, saying it does "not represent the future of our great state." Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Sears Holdings Corp said they would stop selling products bearing the Confederate flag.
On Tuesday, online auction site eBay Inc said it would ban Confederate flags and related items containing the flag's image from its website as it had become a "contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism."
(Reporting by Edward McAllister. Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Sue Horton, Tiffany Wu and Andre Grenon)