Published in The State newspaper (Columbia, S.C.)
It is considerably past time for South Carolina to remove the embattled and divisive Confederate banner from the State House grounds. I am a proud Southerner, and the banner to me, at one time at least, was an symbol of regional pride, unencumbered by racial unpleasantries in the simpler world view of my younger self. Like many boys growing up in the Deep South, I was fascinated with the Civil War. I revered the many brilliant Southern generals – Lee and Jackson and Longstreet and Stuart. I admired the tenacity, the roar and dash of that overmatched army in Grey and the valiant way they fought against overwhelming odds. For many in this great State – those of us whose relatives fought and died under that banner some 140 years ago – the Confederate Battle Flag represents sacrifice, fierce loyalty to State and an unyielding commitment to independence – not unlike the traits displayed by other, more distant relatives who fought for this Country’s sovereignty in the late 18th Century against a hostile and oppressive Great Britain.
However, for the African American community in South Carolina, some 30 percent of the population, I know the flag stands for quite another thing altogether. It represents menacing bands of robed Klansmen – thugs eager to flex their collective muscle, yet too cowardly to show their faces. It represents a system of “separate but equal” – a concept so full of lies in the Jim Crow South that it would be laughable were it not so tragic. It represents fear and oppression and cruelty.
The flag never even appeared on our venerable State House grounds until the early 1960’s when, like a petulant and brooding child, our State’s Legislature approved it’s raising under the guise of marking the Centennial of the Civil War. But even the most thick-headed observer can see that it was a thinly-veiled protest over pending Federal Civil Rights legislation. To make matters worse for those of us who revere it’s history, the Confederate banner has been bastardized by mindless racists who have pilfered it and distorted it’s meaning to fit their own twisted agenda.
Simply put, the banner has become an instantly recognizable symbol of hate, not just in this country but internationally. It is flown side by side with swastikas and photographs of Adolph Hitler the world over during the rallies of neo-Nazi’s and other such cognitively-challenged hate groups. No matter what its historical significance to our State, do we really want this banner – this fallen symbol – flying on the most visible and politically significant intersection in all of South Carolina?
Are we really honoring the memory of those ancestors in Grey by keeping it flying, or are we, in all reality, desecrating their memory? I submit to you that those ancestors would be ashamed, not only of what the the banner has come to represent, but of our Legislature and of all of us for our collective failure to end this embarrassment. Would it not be a greater tribute to retire the once proud old flag to a place of honor and learning, where people of all races could gather to collectively discover its true history in an environment unsullied by racist propaganda and historical fiction?
Take a walk around our magnificent State House grounds. You’ll find no fewer than six monuments to the sacrifices of South Carolinians during the War Between the States. South Carolina has properly memorialized its Confederate dead. We no longer need to prominently display a flag which has been the cause for so much controversy and derision. This is not about bowing to a counter-productive NAACP boycott. This is not about doing what people in other parts of the country think we should do (South Carolinians have never concerned themselves with that). This is about South Carolina – on her own terms and with dignity – doing the right thing.