(Reuters) – NASCAR banned the Confederate flag on Wednesday from all events, and Bubba Wallace, the only African American driving in the NASCAR Cup Series, will use a #BlackLivesMatter livery on his car for a race on Wednesday night at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway.
FILE PHOTO: Nov 18, 2018; Homestead, FL, USA; Confederate flags are visible in the parking lot of Homestead-Miami Speedway during the NASCAR Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo
Following nationwide and international protests over the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, NASCAR promised to do more to address racial injustice and followed through on that by banning the Confederate flag.
While some in the South see the flag as a source of pride and a remembrance of its soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy in the 1861-65 Civil War, many Americans see it as a symbol of oppression and slavery.
“The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” NASCAR said in a statement.
“Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special.
“The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
The U.S. Navy said on Tuesday it was working to ban the Confederate battle flag from all public spaces on Navy installations, ships and aircraft.
The move followed the Marine Corps ordering the removal of the Confederate battle flag from all its installations, including a ban on depicting the flag on mugs and car bumpers.
During last Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Wallace wore a black T-shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe”, which were the last spoke by Floyd, an African-American man, to officers restraining him on May 25.
For the race in Martinsville, Wallace’s Richard Petty Motorsport Chevrolet will be painted black with a striking graphic of two fists, one black other white, locked together on the hood.
Underneath the graphic are the words “Compassion, Love, Understanding”.
“I’m excited for this opportunity to run #BlackLivesMatter on the car for Martinsville,” Wallace said in a video posted on Richard Petty Motorsports’ Twitter account. “This statement that we have right here. Running this race car. Being on live television.
“I think it’s going to speak volumes for what I stand for, but also what the initiative that NASCAR, the whole sport, is trying to push.”
The Martinsville track is significant for Wallace. It is where he came up through NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and won his first race in a national truck series in 2013.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said on Sunday the sport would do more to address racial injustice. NASCAR had come under increasing pressure to ban the Confederate flag, which had flown prominently at many races and remained popular among the sport’s strongly Southern, white and conservative fan base.
NASCAR first asked fans in 2015 not to bring Confederate flags to races, but that has been largely ignored.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ed Osmond and Peter Cooney