Category Archives: Community

Come see ‘Spotlight’ tonight at the Nickelodeon

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom -- and it's not empty!

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!

I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”

That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.

And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.

So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.

Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.

The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.

Come to the city council candidates’ forum tonight!

Notice how I threw in that exclamation point to get y’all excited? Is it working?

I hope so, because I’d like some of y’all to turn out. The Greater Columbia Community Relations Council will host a candidates’ forum tonight feature all four of the Columbia City Council candidates who are in next week’s runoff: At-large candidates Howard Duvall and Andy Smith, and District 2 candidates Ed McDowell and Aaron Bishop.ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

It will be at 7 p.m. at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland Street.

How are we having a forum for two different offices? Like this: We’ll ask a question of the candidates for one office, then ask another question of both candidates for the other. Not perfect, perhaps, but it seemed the simplest way of handling it without trying to schedule two separate events in a tight time frame.

Originally, this was to have been televised live, but that fell through at the last minute. So instead of this being moderated by a smooth broadcast professional, the questioners will be CRC Executive Director Henri Baskins (who’s pretty smooth in her own right) and yours truly. If you come, don’t boo us too much — we’re last-minute substitutes, doing our best. (See how I lowered expectations there, despite the fact that I’ve moderated debates in the past and been paid for it? If candidates can play that game, so can moderators.)

Those of you who can vote in this election should come on out. This might be your last chance to compare the candidates in person…

2015 Walk for Life postponed until early 2016

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This came across just after 10 o’clock last night:

Over the last few days, our community has suffered tremendously due to unprecedented rainfall and flooding at historic levels. Response efforts have been unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in our community and state. Teams of first responders from our community and surrounding areas have been working day and night to keep us safe and informed. They are heroes! Priority for our law enforcement teams is to help see our community through the flood crisis and move forward towards recovery. This is expected to take some time. Because these critical teams will not be available to safely close streets around Finlay Park and along our walk and race routes, Walk for Life/Race for Life will be rescheduled for early 2016 at Finlay Park in Columbia. We will update you on the date soon. We also will continue to keep registration open for individuals between now and the first of the year.

Your interest and continued commitment to beating breast cancer in the Midlands through your participation in Walk for Life/Race for Life speaks volumes about your unwavering dedication to our community and your relentless spirit of giving. Our commitment to this event is strong. We hope you will join us in early 2016 to help fight breast cancer in our community.

In the meantime, be sure to pick up your official Walk for Life/Race for Life shirts, and encourage your team members to wear it to the South Carolina State Fair on Sunday, Oct. 25 to receive free admission valued at $10! Team packet pick-up day will be Monday, Oct. 12, 8 a.m.6 p.m. at Palmetto Health Foundation, 1600 Marion St., Columbia. We will give you your team shirts but will hold your race bibs until early 2016.

Thank you for your support of Palmetto Health Foundation and Palmetto Health Breast Center. Be sure to stay tuned to for updates.

Kristin Lavender Hudson, your Walk for Life/Race for Life Team Captains Liaison
Events Manager, Cancer Centers
Palmetto Health Foundation

So… I suppose I’ll continue to solicit funds for the upcoming walk, and keep y’all posted as to what’s next. Maybe with the new date, a few more of you can walk with us.

Only minutes left to sign up for Walk for Life team!


We have only minutes left to sign up for the Walk for Life team!

Please join us, or at least contribute, and help us fight breast cancer in the Midlands!

Click here to sign up! The deadline is at 11:59 a.m. today.

(I think you can still contribute past the deadline, but let’s not take chances, OK?)


Why we need each other: ‘The $1,500 Sandwich’

We tend to put those who place their faith in the market economy at the libertarian end of the political spectrum, as far away from us communitarians as you can get.

But… the fact is that the modern marketplace itself, properly understood, starkly demonstrates that no man is an island, and that we are profoundly interdependent in the modern world.

I enjoyed this little demonstration of that fact in this passage from a Cato Institute blog (of all places), quoted by The Wall Street Journal today:

From an online post by Cato Institute researcher and editor Chelsea German, Sept. 25:

What would life be like without exchange or trade? Recently, a man decided to make a sandwich from scratch. He grew the vegetables, gathered salt from seawater, milked a cow, turned the milk into cheese, pickled a cucumber in a jar, ground his own flour from wheat to make the bread, collected his own honey, and personally killed a chicken for its meat. This month, he published the results of his endeavor in an enlightening video: making a sandwich entirely by himself cost him 6 months of his life and set him back $1,500. . . .

The inefficiency of making even something as humble as a sandwich by oneself, without the benefits of market exchange, is simply mind-boggling. There was a time when everyone grew their own food and made their own clothes. It was a time of unimaginable poverty and labor without rest.

We are light years removed from the society of totally independent yeoman farmers that Thomas Jefferson idealized. And personally, I would never have wanted to live that way, anyway.

I liked this parenthetical from the Cato post, which the WSJ left out:

(It should be noted that he used air transportation to get to the ocean to gather salt. If he had taken it upon himself to learn to build and fly a plane, then his endeavor would have proved impossible).

Kind of reminds me of that joke about the hubris of science:

God was once approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replied, “Don’t need me huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being, say, a male human being.”

The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam.

“Fine” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.”

“Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. You get your own dirt.”

Actually, the version I heard was more involved, with the scientist saying something like, “First, I’ll mine for the requisite minerals, and…” But the punchline was the same: “Get your own dirt,” or maybe “Make your own dirt.”

You get the idea.

Time’s a wastin’! Sign up for Walk for Life 2015

That championship team of 2013 -- their names are legend.

That championship team of 2013 — their names are legend.

OK, yeah, I know. With the Walk less than three weeks off, this is ridiculously late to get started.

But I’m giving it a try anyway, because it’s never too late to get together to fight breast Cancer in the Midlands.

So come on and join us as we prepare to walk on Oct. 17. Or rather, join me, since I’m the only one to sign up for the blog team so far. With my contribution, we’re at 3 percent of our goal of $1,000.

Even this late, that’s a reachable goal. Remember that in 2013, we broke the Top Ten, coming in at No. 9 with a grand total of $3,651.44. We did that, if you’ll recall, due to the above-and-beyond efforts of Bryan Caskey and Doug Ross. I’ll hope they’ll join us again this year, but hey — it’s high time that the rest of us take up some of the slack.

So click here to get started. NOW!

For my part, I’m going to send out a fund-raising note to some of my contacts as soon as I get done typing this. Perhaps some of y’all could do the same. If you want to see a way to do it that works, check out Bryan’s legendary missive of 2013.

And please, accept my apologies for getting started so late. I know it’s inexcusable. But I’m trying to do some good even at this late hour, so help me out.

My lateness is particularly embarrassing since once again, I am one of the Pinkadors — that is to say, the social media brand ambassadors for the Walk. Way last month, a lovely gift package was dropped off at the ADCO offices to remind me of that fact. There it is below.

So watch this space, and my Twitter feed for more about the Walk as these last few days stream past…



Once again, photographic proof that Mike Miller and I are two completely different people

Mike and me

That’s me on the left. Not my left, YOUR left…

Here we go again, y’all.

Last night, I stopped by the First Thursday event on Main Street, partly because I wanted to drop by Kyle Michel‘s law office and rummage through the discs he was prepared to part with. Kyle, the son-in-law of my old boss Tom McLean, is the Rob Fleming of Columbia, and much of the space in his office is taken up by his amazingly extensive record collection. Each First Thursday, he puts a couple of tables out on the sidewalk in front of his office, laden with boxes full of LPs he’s prepared to sell. (Last night, I came away with a mono LP of Trini Lopez’ greatest hits.)Trini-Lopez-Greatest-Hits---S-504697

Crossing the courtyard of the art museum on my way toward Main Street, I heard my name called, and it was Mike Miller, standing chatting with Tim Conroy — yes, he’s one of those Conroys, brother of Pat — and Phill Blair, co-owner of The Whig (and one of my elder son’s best friends).

Mike immediately reported that it had happened again. Just minutes before in a shop on Main Street, a woman had mistaken him for me. He did his best to persuade her that he was this whole other guy who had also worked at the newspaper, and she allowed as how yes, she recalls there was a Mike Miller who wrote about the music scene for the paper, but she had felt certain that the man in front of her was Brad Warthen.

This is ridiculous, people.

This happened to me — being mistaken for Mike, I mean — three times in one week back in 2012, in the wake of Mike’s run for city council. I have since posted photographic evidence that we are not the same person. That should have settled it, right?

Evidently, that photo wasn’t persuasive enough. So I asked Tim Conroy to take a picture of us together, right then and there, to put an end to the persistent rumors that Clark Kent — I mean, Mike Miller — and I are the same person. He obliged.

Please share this with your friends and neighbors, so we can clear up this misunderstanding. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

It’s a great day in South Carolina, and tomorrow will be even greater

I wasn't actually seeing this. My phone did, held high above my head.

I wasn’t actually seeing this. My phone, held high above my head, did.

It helps to make new friends at just the right moment.

As I arrived at the State House a few minutes before the appointed time for Gov. Nikki Haley to sign the bill removing the Confederate flag from the grounds, I realized I should have come a lot earlier. Anyone with a brain should have known this would not just attract media types and pols who want to get into the picture. I had to stand a couple of minutes in a queue of regular civilians before I could even get into the building. But it was a happy, friendly group to hang out with.

My friend Valerie Bauerlein had joined the queue just as I made it through the metal detector, and I waited for her. But then we had trouble — both stairways up to the lobby were blocked by uniformed guards. They said the lobby was at capacity and nobody else could come up. I told them Valerie was from The Wall Street Journal and had come a long way, but no dice. Same story at the elevator.

So I went over toward the corridor to the governor’s office, where a bunch of dignitaries — also behind guards. I saw my representative, Kenny Bingham, and tried calling on his cell. He must have had it turned off. Then I saw Nathan Ballentine. “Nathan!” I called, to no avail. Just then, Rob Godfrey, the governor’s press guy, came over to tell me how much he had liked my column yesterday, in which I said nice things about the governor. (He had earlier said obliging things on Twitter.)

I thanked him, told him of our predicament, so he went and found a senior security guy, and suddenly it was OK for two more people to ascend the stairs.

So you see, sometimes it pays to make nice to the governor. You know, when it’s warranted. (Kidding aside, I’m as proud as I can be of her these last couple of weeks, as I’ve mentioned previously.)

At this point, you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the part about the signing ceremony. Well… here’s the thing… Once Valerie and I got up there, we found we couldn’t get within five or six people of the rope line around the spot where the signing would take place. Not only were there more media than I’ve ever seen at once in the State House (more than the presser a couple of weeks ago, WAY more than Mark Sanford’s confession in 2009), but there was an equal number of dignitaries crowding the place, plus a mixed concentration of lobbyists, staff people and the aforementioned regular citizens.

We all would have been better off watching it on a video feed, in terms of seeing or hearing anything. There was no P.A. system, and about the only things I heard the governor say was something about the flag coming down — which drew a cheer — and then her patented line about it being a great day in South Carolina, followed by more cheering, because this time, everybody agreed with her. In fact, I may start saying it when I answer my own phone.

But as little as I saw or heard, I wouldn’t have missed being there. So thanks, Rob. I mean, nobody could hear George Washington’s inaugural address, because he mumbled. But wouldn’t you like to have been there?

Beyond that, well, I’ll share the bits and pieces of what I was able to witness below:

No more flags, no more pole, no more ‘compromises’ that are anything but

Rep. Mike Pitts, speaking in the House this afternoon.

Rep. Mike Pitts, speaking in the House this afternoon.

This is a dangerous moment.

More than two weeks have passed since that magnificent moment of unity and purpose in the lobby of the State House. And after that moment of clarity and understanding about what the Confederate flag, flying in front of our seat of government, actually means, some House members have had time to revert to habitual modes of thinking.

And to start acting on them. Which is why there are proposals in the House to do things that would make removing the Confederate flag meaningless — by proposing to replace it with other symbols supposedly meant to honor their ancestors (or, to take this one and fly it at the State Museum). While, of course, giving everyone else’s ancestors the backs of their hands.

Worse, the state of South Carolina would be the entity giving the back of its hand to the rest of the world, and especially to those whose ancestors were slaves in this state.

What is it with these people that they can think, or even pretend to think, that a public space is meant for them to honor their personal family trees?

An approach like what they are talking about is in no way, shape or form a “compromise.” It would be their way of winning again, of continuing to have it all their way. Which is what they have so much trouble letting go of.

The “heritage” argument is so bogus that I feel foolish taking time to refute it — but it’s on my mind because a House member I don’t recognize is going on and on about that nonsense right now, on the video feed.

As I said in my column this morning, there is only one way to see that flag (or a substitute also meant to “honor” some people’s ancestors) flying in that place:

And what did the flag mean? We know. Oh, news reports will affect that priggish, pedantic neutrality peculiar to the trade: “Some people see the flag as meaning this; some see it as meaning that.” But we know, don’t we? It is a way white South Carolinians — some of us, anyway — have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement: We can do this. We don’t care about you or how you feel about it.

It was a way of telling the world whose state this is.

And any “solution” that continues to fly anything there to honor anyone’s ancestors at the cost of insulting other people’s is completely out of the question. If the House is going to do that, it should just adjourn and go home now.

Because anything short of what the Senate has done — passing a bill that brings us together as ONE people, no longer dividing us by honoring some people’s separate version of reality — will accomplish anything.

All a “compromise” will do at this point is guarantee that we’ll still be arguing about this 15 years from now.

And no sane person wants that.

Don’t go by me, though. Read Cindi’s editorial on the subject today.

As the governor says, ‘Be kinder than necessary’

Nikki Haley posted this on her Facebook page this morning:

Cynthia HurdToday the legislature will come back in to take up our vetoes. We will report the votes on the many pork projects that we struck and let you know how legislators voted. They will also take up the removal of the Confederate flag. We ask everyone to remember the importance of respect during this debate. There are no winners or losers with this vote. Passions are running high but in the words of Cynthia Hurd “Be kinder than necessary.”

OK, she tarnished the shine on the message a bit by unnecessarily referring to things that a majority of lawmakers thought worthy of funding as “pork,” but this is a Facebook message, not a major policy address. Old habits die hard. But the rest of the message is something we should all heed.

I posted, in response to that, my thanks (again) for the governor’s leadership on this, and urged her to do what she can to prevent any effort to delay or to weaken the power of what we are about to do with any “compromise.”

You can be kind, and still insist upon doing the right thing.

But the being kind is important. In fact, it’s the main point here.

As I’ve said so often before, getting the flag down isn’t the goal in itself. When it comes down, if it comes down the right way — not in conflict, but in a consensus of unity — then it will show us that our state has come an amazingly long way in terms of our ability to respect each other and work together to accomplish things that up to this point, thanks to a lot of nasty impulses that have held our state back for its entire history, have proved intractable.

We are experiencing a moment that I did not expect, did not dare to dream of, in which the broad-based willingness to put all that stuff behind us and move forward finally exists. So be kind. And get it done.

Images from the Unity Festival at the State House

The above video gives you a small taste of what the Unity Festival at the State House was like yesterday, July 4, 2015.

It was different from the urgent, earnest gathering of two weeks earlier. That one was more intensely pitched at urging our state’s leaders to take down the Confederate flag that flies on the State House grounds. It was a cry from the heart, and at the same time one with relatively little hope for quick action. Folks were mostly there, I believe, to bear witness by their presence that the flag didn’t represent them, whatever our elected leaders did.

But two days later, the event’s three main organizers were present at the miraculous presser at which Gov. Nikki Haley and an extraordinary gathering of other state leaders (including Sen. John Courson!) called for the flag to come down.

As a result, this second demonstration changed focus, and became an occasion for people to celebrate, in a fairly laid-back way, the way black and white, Democrat and Republican have mostly come together on the issue — even though, let me emphasize, it hasn’t happened yet (although we’re moving that way with extraordinary speed, for the SC Legislature).

Basically, the program was half live music, half speakers. In the clip above, I particularly enjoyed that the band was covering Link Wray’s classic “Rumble,” the 1958 guitar instrumental piece that had such huge influence on the guitarists of the ’60s. You’ve heard it a hundred times, probably, as background in a film about surfing, or really almost anything. But few know the name of the piece, or its author. Anyway, it felt just right as background for a pan around the scene. I’m sorry the sound isn’t better.

The crowd was smaller than two weeks earlier, although still respectable for a holiday when so many are out of town or gathering with family (I slipped away before it was over because we were having dinner with my parents and all five of our grandchildren). Estimating it was complicated by the fact that a lot of people were off to the sides, in the shade of trees. The weather wasn’t as hot and humid this time, but there was more direct sun, and it was uncomfortable. Lynn Teague estimated it at 800-1,000. If the first one was indeed 1,500, that sounds about right.

The speakers were… generally not as impressive as at the first rally. And they lacked focus. The Rev. Neal Jones of the Unitarian-Universalist congregation was the first speaker, and he went beyond the flag to call for a litany of lefty causes, such as an increase in the minimum wage. I couldn’t resist saying, via Twitter, that “I guess no Southern Baptists were available.” And indeed, that was the disappointing thing. The consensus in this state to get the flag down — as represented by that group standing with the governor at the aforementioned press conference — is so much broader than this roster of speakers would indicate. I mean, there was no Brett Bursey this time, but Kevin Gray spoke. Enough said.

I had broached this subject with one of the organizers earlier in the week, and the problem largely is that these folks, who are not political consultants, simply didn’t have the contacts for the kinds of speakers that I hoped for — say, Paul Thurmond or the governor herself. (Confession time: I stepped out of my role as journalist so far as to give the organizer the phone number of Matt Moore, chairman of the state GOP. But apparently nothing came of it. I had thought that since Democratic Chair Jaime Harrison had spoken at the first rally, either Matt or some designee would provide balance — and I knew they were both on board on the flag.)

By the way, I had been concerned when I heard that the NAACP was taking over the logistics of the event, even being called the sponsor. You know, on account of its confrontational style, especially the attempt to coerce the state to do the right thing via a boycott, which has done so much over the years to keep lawmakers from wanting to address the issue. But it was cool. Sure, you had the NAACP signage, but aside from a brief address from Lonnie Randolph, the group was cool and low-key, in no way disturbing the whole “Shiny, Happy People” tone of the event.

The best speaker by far was Rep. James Smith. And though as a Democrat he couldn’t symbolically balance the event the way a Paul Thurmond could, he centered the issue nicely, because he was the one speaker focused on the debate coming this week in the real world. He said a lot of things that would never occur to the other speakers — such as noting, as I have done (and as organizer Tom Hall had done two weeks earlier) that it is a gross dishonor to the soldiers who represented South Carolina in the Civil War to fly that flag after they surrendered.

But the most important thing he said, and something we all need to keep in mind and insist upon this week, is this: There must be no compromise this time. As he said, “No flag and no flag pole!” In a shouted conversation before he went on, while one of the bands was playing, he told me he was optimistic, but worried by all the talk of compromises that were swirling around — such as leaving the pole and flying some other flag there.

Absolutely not. This absolutely must be the end to it. Nothing else will answer at this historic moment. The governor, with all those people standing with her, said it was time for the flag to be removed, and that’s it. Get it down, put it in a museum. Period. Otherwise, we’ll be talking about it for another 15 years.

Happy Fourth! See you (I hope) at the flag rally

flag rally FB

Just a reminder that the Unity rally for taking down the flag — and for celebrating and supporting the fantastic consensus in the State House to do so — is at 4 p.m. today.

I hope to see you there.

And I hope it will be an event that looks and sounds like South Carolina, which is something I’m always jittery about. Just as I did two weeks ago, I’ve been communicating this week with the organizers, fretting about whether the speakers and the visuals will help cement this miraculous consensus and not weaken it. I won’t go into all that. I just hope this is at least as positive an event as the one two weeks ago turned out to be, only with even more people.

I’ll try to post something about the rally tonight. I say “try,” because I’ll be hanging out with two, and possibly four, grandchildren tonight, and playing with them comes first.

And just because I’m proud of it, I’ll post again the video my son did based on the last one. It tells you a little about the origins of that event, and therefore this one, since it has the same initial organizers:

Video reminder to come to the flag rally Saturday

Take The Flag Down: SC Unity Rally from Brian Harmon on Vimeo.

Remember the short video that my son Matt made about the flag rally Saturday before last?

Well, a friend of his has made another one to promote the rally coming up this Saturday, July 4th.

This one has a slightly better-known narrator. I’m not sure he’s the best narrator for persuading any Republicans who are still on the fence on this issue, but hey: It’s effective.

Bearing witness in the searing noonday sun, and other developments on a busy day

from steps

First, the headline: Lawmakers voted to empower themselves to act on the flag during this special session, once they’re done with the budget. The House approved the amendment to the sine die resolution 103-10, and the Senate passed it by voice vote.

Also, 28 senators have signed on as sponsors of a bill to take down the flag and put it in the Confederate Relic Room. (You know, if we didn’t have a Confederate Relic Room, and I wanted to make up a hypothetical place that would be the perfect place for the flag, I would call it the “Confederate Relic Room.”)

Meanwhile, there was a sort of rally-for-folks-who-missed-the-rally-on-Saturday on the State House grounds as a way of keeping up public support for this historic move.

Tomorrow, Sen. Clementa Pinckney will lie in state in the State House.

Following are some notes from the rally, which I attended for as long as I could stand the heat…

from cap city

The turnout

I hope nobody is going to judge public sentiment on the issue by the turnout at this gathering, because it was apparently sparse by comparison to Saturday. I say “apparently” because it’s difficult to say how many people attended, for several reasons:

Being in the middle of a working day, people came and went. The thing dragged on for hours (unlike the event Saturday, which was about the length of a white-people’s church service), and almost no one was in a position to stay for all of it. I noticed the pattern of people coming and going when I looked back down on the event later from the Capital City Club.

Also, it was difficult to gauge the number of people at any one time because of the way people were distributed.

There were basically four or five groups: First, there were the fortunate ones seated in the shade of two tiny white tents on the lawn, like mourners at a graveside service. Then you had the people standing around the tent and trying to look in and see the speakers, which was tough because if you were standing in the blinding, searing sun, it was hard to see everything going on in the tent, which is where the podium was. It was also hard if you were in the sun to make out the third group, probably larger than the first two put together, that was in the shade of the trees to the east of the tents, maybe fifty feet from the action, listening but not seeing (a lesser, sparser group stood under trees on the west side, near the Ben Tillman monument). Another contingent sat high up on the State House steps, also in the shade.


The flavor

This was different from Saturday in tone and content. As a lot of people noted at the time, the Saturday group was about 90 percent white, organized and attended by (mostly) white people. The speaker roster was slightly more diverse than the crowd. This one today was blacker — although there were a lot of white faces present, perhaps even more than half of the crowd — and at times had a black-church feel, with call-and-response cadence. And while the Saturday event had an eclectic mix of speakers thrown together at the last minute, this event had a steady stream of dignitaries that wanted to say a few words.

tom davis

Tom Davis

There were white speakers as well as white attendees, and one that particularly interested me was Sen. Tom Davis. Tom’s sort of out there on his own, an iconoclastic figure, not someone automatically with this crowd or that one. He’s also known as a filibusterer. So it was good to hear that he was on board with getting the flag down.

I liked one thing Tom said in particular: Some might think that we shouldn’t be moving to act on a political issue in response to the deaths of innocents. He noted that Clementa Pinckney himself helped lead the push for body cameras on police, and that was in response to the last sensational, senseless killing in Charleston, that of Walter Scott.



There was a tiny cluster of counter-protesters at the scene, right around the soldier monument, but they didn’t get much notice. It wasn’t Sons of Conferederate Veterans or League of the South types. These folks were more marginal. So far, we’re not seeing a coherent opposition that might be effective. But this is early; opponents of change are sort of rocked back on their heels — for the moment.


Less cowbell

Standing over near the counter-demonstrators was an older African-American man just maniacally wailing away on a cowbell — CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK. He seemed intent on drowning out the speakers, or something. I asked several people who were there before me whether they knew what he was on about. I didn’t want to ask him; he was furiously intent on his task, looking only at his cowbell, and keeping at it like a perpetual motion machine — CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK.

Standing in that heat, so much more intense than Saturday, I felt like I was getting a fever, and the cure was most assuredly NOT more cowbell.



I kept moving around the tents, trying to get a good angle to see the speakers and maybe get a picture (almost impossible with an iPhone that was in the sun while the subjects were in the shade). For one short period, I was next to this really beatific African-American lady who was standing under a parasol and insisting that I share its shade. With one hand she held the umbrella (declining my offer to hold it for her), while the other was resting gently on the shoulder of a rather scruffy, middle-aged white man.

The white man had a constant scowl on his stubbled face, and every once in awhile he would sputter out something cryptic like “Why don’t you take down the flag at Fort Sumter?” in a tone that made it sound like he didn’t think taking down any flags was a good idea.

Each time he did, the lady would pat his shoulder, speak soothingly to him saying things intended to make him feel welcome and at his ease. And he seemed to calm down each time. At one point, a black man a couple of feet away cried out something defiant-sounding about the flag, and the white guy really got stirred up and started saying something like, “You can’t do that! You can’t! It takes two-thirds of the legislation (sic)! You can’t!”

I really thought for a second they were going to go at it, and we were in the way.

The lady shushed him, pleaded with him to be calm and not get excited, and eventually steered him back out of the press of people. She came back a moment later, but he did not. She was a bit shaken, but trying to stay calm. I asked her whether she knew that man. No, she didn’t. She just saw him as a soul in need of consolation.

What I’ve learned about the flag rally Saturday night


As y’all may have noticed, I’ve been ranting and raving about my inability to find out anything about the anti-Confederate flag rally that Facebook told us was (and still is) scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at the State House.

Who was organizing it? Who would be speaking? Would this be a mainstream sort of thing that would impress the powers that be (legislators), like the original King Day at the Dome and Joe Riley’s march in 2000? Or would it be something that lawmakers could smugly dismiss as “fringe” and continue in their state of apathy and cowardice on the issue?

Being someone with more than 20 years hard-won experience dealing with the issue, I know where the mines are buried in the field, and I was very concerned that this rally might make fatal missteps. I was also concerned that this was too quick, too early. We’re still in mourning, families and friends have yet to bury the dead — time enough for political moves later.

But I knew why people were impatient. They were impatient because we live in a world in which we all see national and international news coverage immediately, and the story was playing like this: A white supremacist murdered black worshippers and drove away in a car decorated with the very same flag that South Carolina still flies on the State House lawn. And we all wanted to say, Yes, that’s the case, but it doesn’t fly there with MY permission. At the very least, we wanted to say that.

Anyway, gradually, in bits and pieces, reaching one person who led to another who led to another, I’ve managed to get ahold of people who are involved in pulling this together. And one reason I’ve had trouble getting ahold of them is that they ARE trying to put this thing together in a very short time, and things are rather hectic. Here are some chunks of what I’ve learned:

  • Apparently, what has happened is this… A lady I will not name because I haven’t spoken to her yet put out the idea that wouldn’t it be great if everybody gathered at the State House Saturday to express our desire that the flag come down. This engendered a tsunami-like response (note the activity on the Facebook page) which kind of overwhelmed her. She was particularly unprepared for some of the more hateful messages she received. So, chivalry not being dead in the post-bellum South, two men agreed , on the spur of the moment, to pitch in and help her. They were Emile DeFelice and Tom Hall.
  • I’ve spoken with Emile, who says that the program is still coming together, and as they know more they will post more (speakers and such). But he assures me that this group will look like South Carolina, or a reasonable cross section of it. It’s an unaffiliated gathering, owing nothing to any group or agenda. As he puts it, “This is a group of concerned, mainstream citizens who give a s__t.” He says there are a thousand people coming, in spite of the ungodly weather, and national media will be there. So, you know, if you’d like to tell the world what South Carolinians are really like, that we’re not a bunch of Dylann Roofs, then here’s your chance.
  • I haven’t reached Tom Hall. We’ve both tried, and keep missing each other.
  • Before I talked with Emile, I spoke with Becci Robbins and Brett Bursey at the SC Progressive Network, who seemed to have been pulled in by the event in a haphazard way. Becci had posted earlier in the day a question like mine: What is going on here, and who’s in charge? She had not realized that Brett had already started getting involved in it. Brett said he was telling people that this was less a flag rally than a memorial for the slain — although the flag would be mentioned. At 5:21 p.m. today, after I spoke with him, Brett put out a media advisory saying the following: “The tragic deaths of nine black people at the hands of a young white man in Charleston is a soul-searing opportunity for South Carolina to confront our state’s historic racism and the bitter fruit it continues to yield. The Confederate flag that has flown on the State House grounds since 1961 is a symptom of the institutional racism that afflicts all aspects of life in South Carolina. The removal of the flag from the front lawn to the State Museum is but one necessary step in the long road to true racial equality. The SC Progressive Network is calling for the community to gather on the Gervais Street side of the State House on Saturday, June 20, 6pm-7pm. There will be a short program. People are advised to bring water, lawn chairs and a shade umbrella.”
  • It was not clear under whose auspices Brett was issuing that. I had had no indication from Emile that he expected Brett to be doing media relations on the event or indeed playing any central role in it. But Becci had written to me that she had spoken with “someone associated with this event,” and he “invited us to do what has not been done: logistics, program, hospitality etc.” It may have been one of a number of people I talked to other than Emile. There are a lot of people eager to make this thing happen, and I don’t think they’re all talking to each other.

So there you have it. It’s going to happen, but no one is yet entirely sure what will happen. I’m going to be there, and a lot of good folks I know are going to be there, and in the end I think it’s important that we do that, so that the aforementioned national media can see that we’re there and we care. There’s plenty of time for refining the message and the movement later. It’s almost impossible that anything would be done about the flag before the Legislature comes back in January, for a lot of reasons. Not least, the fact that this is too soon after the tragedy for a major political sea change to occur.

A final thought: I enjoyed listening to Emile talk about the issue.

“We really take it on the chin in Columbia,” he said. We host the nation’s Army, the state’s flagship university, the state government, and the region’s homeless people.

He says “we’ve done enough” without lawmakers “planting a flag and running home” to leave us to live with it. “I work on Main Street,” he says, and he’s tired of it. He wants to tell them, “It’s not fair for y’all to plant that flag where we have to deal with it.”

He fantasizes about getting a bunch of Confederate flags, some poles and a few bags of cement, and driving them in a truck to the places of business of some of these lawmakers — their law offices, their insurance agencies and so forth — and planting the flags in front of their businesses and seeing how they like it.

And he’s right, of course. Most of them wouldn’t. They just keep the flag up because they don’t want to stir up that extremely passionate minority out there who would descend on them if they lifted a finger to bring it down — the kinds of people who totally freak out the uninitiated when they venture into flag territory.

Anyway, that’s what Emile wants to do. But instead, he and a few other folks are trying to pull a rally together.

Maybe I’ll see y’all there.

Elliott Epps on his friend Clementa Pinckney

On Wednesday, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council had its big annual community luncheon at the convention center. I was there, as a member of the Council, but I had not made a reservation, so I took pot luck in being assigned to a table. I ended up with one at the back that had to be added because we had such a big crowd. I knew a couple of people at the table, but met some new ones as well, including an older (slightly older than I am, that is) black lady named Minnie (sp?).

Elliott Epps

Elliott Epps

Our outgoing chairman, Elliott Epps — former head of City Year, and a classmate of my daughter in law school — opened the event with a gag from the news: He said that yes, he was a Caucasian male, and he was not asking us to believe he was anything else. So people laughed, and I said something to my tablemates to the effect of, “Elliott, we can tell!” Minnie smiled and said something like, “I don’t know; he looks just like some of my cousins.” And true, he does have dark hair, but that’s about it.

At that moment, we could still have a laugh about things in the news, even things in the news that bore on race.

Hours later, that would all change.

This morning, CRC Executive Director Henri Baskins sent out a note to all board members letting them know about the statement I had drafted yesterday. Among the responses was this personal reflection from Elliott, which he has also posted on Facebook. I asked him whether I might share that with y’all and he generously agreed:

I have been numb today. Clementa Pinckney was my best friend from graduate school when we spent two years together getting a Masters in Public Administration at the University of South Carolina. Two months after leaving City Year Boston in 1997 I met him when he was 24 and I was 26 when we both started grad school. He and I worked as office assistants in the office of government and international studies in order to get the tuition reduction. This man at 24 had his own congregation in Jasper County; had his own constiuents in Jasper, Beaufort and Charleston county, was taking a full load of graduate degree classes; but still managed to work 20 hours in office with me making copies and stuffing faculty boxes. The humility. The grace. The strength. He epitomized the servant leader.

Clementa Pinckney

Clementa Pinckney

He and I both entered our dating phases with the women we were to marry. What a fun time! We went to each other’s weddings. He introduced me to a lifetime friend, mentor Steve Skardon which led to get me a job for the Palmetto Project to work on improving race and community relations. He is the only person I have walked door to door for a large part of James Island when he ran for State Senate. Later we had our oldest children a year apart. When my mother got cancer, Clem drove to Aiken and prayed with her and over her, holding her hand weeks before she died. Sadly years later his mother died also of cancer.

Clem probably drove more than anyone in this state that was not a professional truck driver. When I knew him his blue car was seriously over 300,000 miles. His district when he was elected to the SC Senate is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.

As I watched all of the coverage and I heard the President, Congressman Clyburn, his colleagues in the SC Senate and the House, and so many people talk about Clemnta this was not how it was supposed to be. Clementa was always pulled between politics and the church. I always wondered and thought from our discussions about the future and our dreams that he would either be Bishop of the AME church or the successor to Congressman Clyburn to represent SC in Washington. All of those leaders speaking about Clementa was not weird because I always expected because of his gifts that he would be talked about by them and with them. But never in my worst nightmare like this. Not about this. What a terrible, terrible waste.

Someone from the SC Senate said I thought beautifully, “Out of all of us. How can this happen to gentlest? How can this have happened to the best of us?” He called him the “Conscience of the Senate.” The book by Norman Vincent Peele entitled “Why do bad things happen to good people” could in this case be renamed “Why do the worst things happen to the best people?” My thoughts go to Jennifer, Eliana and Malana. We must lift them and the other families affected by this chaos.

It is time to mourn but when we move forward we need to follow Clemnta’s lead and listen to that incredible voice in our heads and our heart when we work together on how to solve this. I miss you Clem!

We need to see mainstream SC — and mainstream leadership — at the Confederate flag rally Saturday

flags cropped

Our own Phillip Bush wrote these wise words on Facebook today:

Petitions through are well-meaning, but ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst: I can tell you anything transmitted to SC legislators via will automatically get them to dig in their heels the other way. Calling and writing legislators directly is better, and I like my friend Brad Warthen‘s idea best of all. I’m in, how about you?

Phillip is absolutely right. As I’ve written what seems like a thousand times — petitions from, boycotts by the NAACP, federal lawsuits and related kinds of pressure are useless at best, and counterproductive at worst. The white Republicans who control the Legislature (which controls whether the flag flies), and for that matter the black and white Democrats who need to know that there’s a realistic chance if they push the issue forward, need to see that a very broad base of South Carolinians are the ones who are ready and willing to “move on.”

In response to Phillip, Kathryn noted that there’s a rally tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the State House.

Yes, there is. I see that my wife and my daughter-in-law and quite a few friends have already said they plan to be there. That’s wonderful. But I’m a little worried, since the first person I heard about this from was my friend Walid Hakim.

I’m VERY curious to know who’s going to be up on the podium at this event, and details are scarce on the Facebook page. If this is seen as an Occupy Columbia/SC Progressive Network deal, we’re back to the problem that Phillip cites. If Walid and Brett Bursey are the only ones up there speaking, it’s not going to accomplish anything. We need to see mainstream people prominently in such an event, like the business and religious leaders who stood up in 2000.

I see that as doable. I don’t know if it’s doable by Saturday night.

I’m very encouraged by the friends I see planning to go. Lots of solid, mainstream South Carolinians. But again, who’s going to be in the news photos from this event? Who’s going to be quoted? That is essential. I don’t want an important event such as this to be something that people who don’t want to act feel like they have an excuse to wave off.

We need to see the kind of prominent advocacy we saw in 2000. We need to see something like the wide array of dignitaries who marched along with Joe Riley on his walk from Charleston. We need religious leaders, and not just the Neal Joneses of the world — we need my own bishop, and people like Dick Lincoln, pastor of Shandon Baptist, who stepped forward when his congregant David Beasley was trying to lead on the issue.

We need leaders from the state Chamber of Commerce. We need presidents of universities. We need party leaders from BOTH parties (which is a very tough thing with one of the parties).

And we need them on the podium, speaking.

I’m kind of doubting anything like that can be arranged by Saturday. There’s so little time. But if any such people are reading this, please come out on Saturday.

Maybe there’s only enough time for ordinary, decent South Carolinians to come out and stand together and take comfort from each others’ company in this terrible time. That’s something, and its worthwhile.

But I want more. I want action. I want a sea change. And I want it come from the very heart of the SC electorate, and from our state’s leadership as well.

We need that.

Statement on church massacre from Community Relations Council

As you may know, I serve on the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council. Today, in consultation with our Executive Director Henri Baskins, I drafted this statement, which is now posted on the CRC website:

The Greater Columbia Community Relations Council joins the good people everywhere across our state who are shocked and saddened by the brutal murders of a pastor and eight members of his congregation as they gathered in peaceful bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston Wednesday night.
Our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go out to the families and friends of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other innocent victims of this merciless attack.
But as we look with anguish toward the Holy City, we know that this crime strikes at the heart of our own community as well. Not only was Sen. Pinckney a respected member of the Legislature – he had been in the State House the day of the shootings – but the young man accused of these murders is one of our own – a resident of the Midlands, who attended our schools.
And the issues raised by these acts go beyond the mere fact of one person’s derangement. If Dylann Storm Roof was indeed the killer, then we know that he traveled from his Columbia home to commit his crimes in a church that has profound meaning in the history of our state, a landmark of tragedy, struggle and hope for African-Americans for the past 200 years. We’ve seen the photographs of the suspect defiantly wearing symbols of white supremacy, and posing on a car with license plates proclaiming “Confederate States of America.” We know what these things mean.
If police have the right man, then his act of domestic terrorism is firmly rooted in the worst elements of our history, in the original sin that after all our best efforts still haunts our nation, our state and our communities.
As these communities struggle to make sense of what happened last night, the conversations will be difficult. They must be conducted with mutual respect and civility, but without shrinking from the truth.
The Community Relations Council, which was founded 50 years ago to help foster just this kind of conversation, stands ready to serve in any way that we can help.

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Finlay Park tonight!


Y’all, I’m planning to take in some Shakespeare in the park this evening, assuming I can stay up that late. I hope I see you there.

I had had no idea this was coming up before my wife mentioned it last night, e’en tho’ (you like that touch?), as a former cast member, you’d think I’d be in the loop. But I wasn’t.

They should ask me to do the publicity next time. I’d give ’em a real rip-snorter, along the lines of:

Shaksperean Revival!!!

Wonderful Attraction!

For One Night Only! The world renowned tragedians,

David Garrick the younger, of Drury Lane Theatre, London,


Edmund Kean the elder, of the Royal Haymarket Theatre, Whitechapel,
Pudding Lane, Piccadilly, London, and the Royal Continental Theatres, in
their sublime Shaksperean Spectacle entitled The Balcony Scene in

Romeo and Juliet!!!…


(by special request,)

Hamlet’s Immortal Soliloquy!!

By the Illustrious Kean!

Done by him 300 consecutive nights in Paris!

For One Night Only,

On account of imperative European engagements!

Admission 25 cents; children and servants, 10 cents.

You know, full of sound and fury, signifying standing room only. That’s the way the Duke and the Dolphin did it — slap out a handbill and dare ’em to come on!

Of course, as good as those rates sound, tonight’s performance is even better: There’s no charge, although a hat is generally passed during intermission.