Category Archives: Confederate flag

Video: SC native Jesse Jackson praises action on flag

Standing at the doors waiting for senators to emerge after their historic vote to remove the Confederate flag, I was surprised to see the Rev. Jesse Jackson among them.

I was also a little surprised that I was the only media type to call out, “Rev. Jackson,” which brought him over to speak with me. Maybe some of those young media folks don’t know who he is.

Of course, I was more interested in what the senators had to say, but they were all occupied at the moment and, after all, Jesse Jackson is, like me, a South Carolina native. I was curious how he felt about his state today — or at least the SC Senate.

So I share what he had to say…

He praised the governor, and he said what the Senate did was just what Robert E. Lee would have wanted it to. He also moved on to call for Medicaid expansion, and it made a little more sense for him to do so, under these triumphal circumstances, than for some of the speakers at the rally Saturday — not as jarring.

But watch it yourself…

SC Senate votes 37-3, without hesitation, to remove Confederate flag — no amendments, no conditions

Bill sponsor Vincent Sheheen fields media questions after the vote while the Rev. Jesse Jackson looks on. Jackson is much more pleased than he looks; I had just spoken with him.

Bill sponsor Vincent Sheheen fields media questions after the vote while the Rev. Jesse Jackson looks on. Jackson is much more pleased than he looks; I had just spoken with him.

And I’m so glad I got over there just in time to see it. Of course, that made it seem even more quick and painless to me — I didn’t have to sit through any of Lee Bright’s nonsense before being treated to the payoff.

I’m so proud of my state today, and I’m not alone. I spoke with my fellow native South Carolinian Jesse Jackson, and he was proud, too — of the Senate our governor, of everybody. So were retired Sens. Kay Patterson and McKinley Washington. I spoke with Vincent Sheheen, and told him I was proud of him, since it was his bill — although with more than half the body joining him in sponsoring it, that’s a lot of other people to be proud of, too.

But I doubt anyone is prouder than the senator’s themselves, who managed to perform this miracle after a session in which their body’s own particular flaws were on display more than usual.

Yep, I’m a little giddy. I’ve only been arguing that we should arrive at this point for 21 years. Rather, at the point we’ll be at after perfunctory third reading in the Senate tomorrow, and then the much-anticipated House approval.

So… I hope I’m not jinxing it, but I can’t help being excited. I mean, the Senate is the hard part, because it’s so easy for a single determined opponent to gum up the works, even on a bill with broad support.

I’m going to hit PUBLISH now, and come back and finish writing…

I’m back! The three “no” votes were Lee Bright (of course), Danny Verdin (no surprise) and Harvey Peeler. Everybody else present voted “aye.” I was surprised by Peeler. I think after this vote, his time as a power that might challenge Hugh Leatherman’s leadership and be listened to may be over. We’ll see. But to be so out of step with the very caucus that he nominally leads at such a historic moment… He was odd man out today.

Everybody’s hopeful about the House, although no one I’ve spoke to seems to be able to adequately explain why Speaker Jay Lucas is playing things so close to the vest. He had started discussions in the House about the flag before the governor’s historic press conference two weeks ago — which he did not attend, after sending out a release calling for “swift resolution.” Since then, he has declined to say even how he will vote — but it’s difficult to imagine him in any way bucking what happened in the Senate today, especially after all of that (well-justified) bragging recently about his chamber getting things done while the Senate dawdles.

We live in a new South Carolina, in which the normal, default position even among conservative Republicans is to get the Confederate flag off the State House grounds ASAP, with no ifs, ands or quibbling amendments.

Surely, surely, surely the House will at least try to match the speed and purity of message that the Senate displayed today.

Maybe as soon as tomorrow.

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:

Why South Carolina seceded (in case you’re still confused)

Slave sale in Charleston, 1856

Slave sale in Charleston, 1856

Lee Bright’s bizarre view of history, and Prof. David Carlton’s related comment about South Carolina secessionists’ attempt to justify their action, remind me that it might be useful to place at your convenient disposal the original document itself.

We’ve all heard the absurd lie, from Confederate apologists, that the Civil War was not about slavery. We may hear it asserted next week, when lawmakers take up the matter of lowering the flag.

Just to make sure there is no confusion, I thought I’d share with you the full text of the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” In other words, I’ll let the secessionists themselves tell you what the war was about.

If you’d like to read a slightly shorter version, which leaves out the history lesson about the Declaration of Independence and the framing of the U.S. Constitution, you can read this one instead. It cuts to the chase, going right to the aforementioned “Immediate Causes.”

The document leaves no doubt as to why South Carolina was precipitating this crisis. For those of you who prefer numbers to words, I’ll provide these:

  • The document mentions some form of the word “slave” (“slaves,” “slaveholding,” “slavery,” etc.) 17 times. That’s the number I found in one quick pass through it; I may have missed some.
  • It refers less directly to slavery 9 other times, with such phrases as “person held to service or labor,” “fugitive,” “servile,” “right of property” and “persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens.”

But go ahead and read the whole thing, and let me know if you’re still confused.

 

Lee Bright’s Bizarro perspective on the Confederate flag

There are two measurements for how far we have so suddenly come on the Confederate flag issue.

The first is on the positive side — all the people who once would have opposed removing the flag, or ignored it, coming suddenly and dramatically to the point that they are convinced along with the rest of us that it must come down ASAP. Until just a few hours before that remarkable press conference on June 22, I would have counted this sudden shift as impossible, based on more than two decades of intimate acquaintance with the issue.

The second is on the other side — the tiny group of people still willing to defend the indefensible. They have become so marginalized that their rhetoric — which was always based in foolishness — has become so starkly absurd that people who once might have listened to them respectfully cannot fail to see how profoundly wrong they are.

You’ve heard the Bizarro-world incoherence of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, steadfastly holding their ground in a universe where up is down and down is up.

Now take a look at what Lee Bright, the one lawmaker who gladly embodies what resistance is left in the Legislature has to say. The irrationality and moral bankruptcy of his approach is underlined by the fact that he is using it to try to raise money.

Our own Doug Ross received one of these appeals, to which he simply responded, “Take it down.” Here it is:

 

Lee Bright

Hello Doug,

Is there any doubt that states’ rights are under attack more than ever before?

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the latest liberal hysteria surrounding the placement of the Confederate battle flag has swept the nation. And unfortunately, many of my conservative friends and colleagues have fallen prey to this radical, Big Government scheme.

With all the noise surrounding this issue, please allow me to be abundantly clear where I stand. It is my fervent belief that the Confederate flag is a proud symbol of the following:

  • Resistance against a federal, centralized power that FAR overreached its Constitutional limits.
  • States’ rights and Constitutional liberties, which many have fought and died protecting.
  • Southern heritage and a culture that values freedom, even in the face of federal tyranny.

It is certainly important for us to take steps that prevent future acts of violence. But in this pursuit of peace, should we also dismantle the historical symbols that memorialize states’ rights?

My answer is an emphatic “NO!”

The plain and simple truth is that the placement of this flag will not prevent future tragedies. It’s abundantly clear that the radical liberal agenda is behind this push to remove the flag, which raises the question: where does it all end?

Are we to also remove the names of Confederate officers from our roads? Should we crumble all the Civil War monuments that dot our nation’s landscape?

Doug, it’s time to take a stand. Right here. Right now.

Over 150 years ago, brave Confederates made a bold stand against an oppressive government that far overstepped its Constitutional limits. Will you please take a stand with me now by signing my online petition to keep the flag flying?

States all over the nation are giving ground to the radical liberals by removing the symbol of states’ rights from their historical monuments. But if we can make a stand here and now, we can send a strong message to the elites in DC that states’ rights are still alive and well.

Please click here now to sign my petition, which I will then present to my colleagues in the South Carolina legislature. Let’s show them how much we value our heritage!

Thank you for all you do.

Sincerely,

P.S. Please stand with me in this fight to protect states’ rights by signing my petition today!

Can you believe this guy exists, other than as a figment of The Onion? Let’s dip into this remarkable document:

  • Taking down the flag — in other words, the government deciding to cease doing something it is doing now, is a “radical, Big Government scheme”? I knew that people like this are so wedded to their bumper-sticker phrases that they long ago ceased to be firmly rooted in reality, but to use them in a context to which they have NO conceivable connection is new to me. If we were under attack by aliens from another solar system, Sen. Bright would probably decry the invasion as another “radical, Big Government scheme”…
  • “Liberal hysteria?” This is akin to the SCV’s insistence that Dylann Roof got the race war he wanted, asserted in the face of this miraculous demonstration of reconciliation and unity of purpose. Hysteria? The calm dignity displayed by everyone from the families of the victims of the massacre to the lawmakers quietly accepting their responsibility is the very essence of steady resolve. And liberal? Nikki Haley, Mark Sanford, John Courson, Glenn McConnell, Tim Scott, etc., etc., etc.? Do words have no meaning on his planet?
  • Then there’s his utterly morally bankrupt defense of what the flag is a “proud symbol” of: “Resistance against a federal, centralized power that FAR overreached its Constitutional limits.” Um, let’s see… what had the big, bad federal government done when South Carolina seceded? Well, essentially nothing. A presidential election had simply had an outcome that the slaveholders who made up our state’s political leadership abhorred. “States’ rights and Constitutional liberties, which many have fought and died protecting.” Yes, states’ right to enslave people, I’m with you there. And I suppose the “Constitutional liberties” refers to the Framers’ compromise that allowed slavery to exist. Or perhaps you’re referring to Lincoln’s later suspension of habeas corpus, which was an extreme effect, not a cause, of the rebellion that Mr. Bright extolls. Finally, “Southern heritage and a culture that values freedom, even in the face of federal tyranny.” How could even a native of the Bizarro planet put “Southern heritage” and “a culture that values freedom” in the same sentence, within the context of the Confederacy? How does anyone live with himself after composing a sentence like that and sending it out for other humans to read?

Well, he just goes on and on in the same insurrectionist vein, proudly exhibiting his hostility toward the United States of America and the finest things that it stands for. He portrays himself as appalled that the United States prevailed in a struggle in which it purged itself of its own original sin.

This is the sad state to which the pro-flag camp has sunk. And as appalling as it can be to delve into the workings of such minds, we should take comfort from the fact that the vast majority of our political leadership has decided to stop honoring such nonsense.

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.

We have ONE flag to deal with, and in SC, we know which one it is

flags cropped Sowell

This morning, The Washington Post ran a story headlined, “Did Republicans jump the gun on the Confederate flag?

It was prompted by a national poll that showed the public evenly split on whether the flag is a racist symbol. The premise of the story was that golly, did Nikki Haley and the rest get ahead of public opinion by moving to take down the flag?

This engendered a couple of strong reactions in me. The first was, a NATIONAL poll? Really? In what way is that relevant? I appreciate that, in this era of all local stories being nationalized, the rest of the country feels like it’s a part of our problem, but no matter what sort of vicarious interest they may have in this drama, it is ours to deal with. Our obligation, our duty, our task.

The second was, please don’t anybody do a South Carolina poll, not for another week or so, please. And my reason for saying that leads to my third reaction, which I put in a Tweet:


I realize that to folks in Washington, a town full of political consultants, the idea of getting out ahead of public opinion is… well… unprofessional.

Of course, it’s an awfully rare thing here in South Carolina. In fact, the last time I saw leadership on the flag by a public official in our state was Joe Riley’s march from Charleston to Columbia in 2000.

But that’s what we’re seeing right now. That’s the miracle, or one of them. Our governor and two-thirds majorities in both chambers are ready to act, and they’re not waiting around for polls or political advice from anyone. And I, who have castigated pretty much all of them on one occasion or another (and with a lot of them, a lot more than that), am as proud of them as I can be.

Anyway, my Tweet ended up on Facebook as all of them do, and someone commented (and seems to have thought better of it and taken it down now) something to the effect that she was fine with taking this one flag and putting it in a museum, but she felt like people across the country going on about other Confederate symbols and such were going overboard.

My response to that:

None of that concerns me, or I should think any of us in South Carolina. We have this one flag to deal with. We’ve known that for ages. So we need to get it done.

There’s this one flag, that is qualitatively different, in terms of what it means, from any other flag, symbol, statue, institution name, monument or what have you anywhere in the world.

It, in one form or another and in one place or another, has flown at the State House since 1962, and we all know why. It is a way white South Carolinians have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement, We can do this. We can fly this flag no matter how it affects you or how you feel about it. We don’t care about you or how you think or feel about it; you can go to hell if you don’t like it. In your face.

This message is delivered, of course, primarily to black South Carolinians, and secondarily to anyone else who wanted the flag down, including — putting in a word for people like me — quite a few of us white South Carolinians.

It’s a message that could only be delivered by a flag flown at our seat of government, this message about a highly exclusive, restricted definition of whose state this is. You can’t send that message anywhere else with any symbol. By flying rather than being a cold monument, it says this definition of South Carolina is alive; it’s now; it’s not just history.

That’s why this one flag has to come down.

I’m tired of folks, some of them quite nice folks, talking slippery slopes: Oh, but what about all those other flags, symbols, etc.? I dismiss such questions with increasing impatience. We are dealing with this specific flag for specific reasons that are particular to it — in fact, unique. Those reasons don’t exist for any other object you can name.

Let the rest of the country talk about what it wants to. Since they don’t have this flag to deal with, let them obsess over whatever lesser symbols they have in their desire to be a part of what we’re dealing with. That desire may be laudable, but right now it’s a distraction, if we let it be.

We know what we have to do here in South Carolina. And finally, we’re about to do it.

It does NO good for activists to remove flag unilaterally

two flags

You’ve no doubt seen this unfortunate news from yesterday:

The Confederate flag was removed from a pole on the South Carolina capitol grounds early Saturday morning by activists, but state employees returned the flag to its position not long after the incident.

An activist group claimed responsibility for taking the flag down. Witnesses said two people were arrested by authorities almost immediately after one of them scaled the flag pole on the north side of the State House grounds and pulled the Confederate banner down….

The state Bureau of Protective Services confirmed it had arrested two people at the State House about 6:15 a.m. Those arrested were Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome, a 30-year-old Raleigh resident, and James Ian Tyson, a 30-year-old Charlotte resident, the protective services bureau said…

This kind of action does no good whatsoever, except for perhaps providing some sense of personal, self-congratulatory satisfaction to the individuals involved, one of whom was photographed grinning at the camera as she was arrested.

I say this not just because I believe in the rule of law, and this was an illegal act — although anything that lends even the slightest taint of illegitimacy to our cause is harmful.

I say it not because the perpetrators weren’t South Carolinians, although that is another problem. And I say that at risk of offending a new friend, Mariangeles Borghini, the Argentinian lady who started the ball rolling on last weekend’s flag rally, and bless her for doing that. Mari wrote on Facebook yesterday, “People complaining because neither me or Bree Newsome are from SC. Just get over it and move on!” Ah, but see, it would indeed be a problem if the only people agitating to get the flag down were from out of state. In fact, it would do no good at all. It could even do harm.

Finally, I’m not saying this because such a gesture is in the end ineffective, although it’s perfectly obvious that that is so. The authorities put the flag right back up there — as they were obviously going to do, since the law required them to do so. No more good was done than when “the Rev. E. Slave” climbed up there several years back.

But that’s not it. Even if the flag stayed down forever after those folks from North Carolina acted, it would not accomplish the thing that we need to accomplish; it would not achieve the higher purpose in lowering the flag.

There exists only one way to get the flag down that does any good whatsoever, that even has any point to it: South Carolina has to decide to take it down. We, the people of this state, acting through our elected representatives, have to repeal the unconscionable law that requires it to fly there, and order it to be removed. Otherwise, nothing is accomplished. Until they do this, the flag will fly, and the people of this state will continue to be collectively guilty of willing it to do so.

This is counterintuitive for a lot of people — especially, apparently, if they are young and impetuous. It’s a realization I was slow in coming to myself, at first — 21 years back, when I wrote the first of hundreds of editorials, columns and blog posts about the need to take the flag down. It’s something that I still have trouble explaining sometimes, although there are folks out there who understand it more readily than I did.

Something happens when you express opinions on controversial topics, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people will read your words and try to pick them apart — you think about those issues harder than you would have otherwise.

Initially, I would have been happy with any expedient that brought the flag down — a lawsuit, some tricky technicality, whatever. In fact, my first editorial on the subject (if I remember correctly; I don’t have it in front of me) urged then-Gov. Carroll Campbell to just take it on himself to remove it.

I was deeply frustrated when, not long after that — in response to quite a few calls to remove it, including my own steady insistence, over and over in the paper — the Legislature passed a law requiring that the flag fly, and making it illegal for anyone (including the governor) to remove it.

But gradually, I realized that that act of bad faith on the part of the majority of lawmakers was fine in a way — because only if the will of South Carolina, expressed through the deliberative process of representative democracy, was to bring down the flag would the action accomplish any higher purpose.

And what would that higher purpose be? It would be the one we saw evidence itself last Monday — a coming together in historic reconciliation, an act of grace and healing, an act of inclusion packed with legal, political and cultural power.

Last week, we saw our elected leaders respond to the powerful act of grace and forgiveness carried out by the families of the Mother Emanuel victims at the arraignment of Dylann Roof. This miraculous act engendered other miracles, including a consensus on removing the flag that was unthinkable two weeks ago.

This is about South Carolina setting aside division and embracing each other as fellow citizens, and not only not rubbing hurtful symbols into the faces of their neighbors, but — and here’s the real point — not wanting to.

This is not anything you can achieve with a lawsuit, or unilateral action, or a boycott, or anything that seeks to coerce or trick the flag down.

South Carolina has to decide to do it, so that South Carolina can grow, transcend its past and be a better place, for the sake of all its citizens.

That’s what’s getting ready to happen, I believe. That’s what all of us who want this transformative development need to push and speak and pray for — respectfully, reverently, in a spirit that does not disgrace the dignity of the dead, or interrupt the chain reaction of grace that we saw initiated in that courtroom, or disturb the solemnity of these funerals we are witnessing.

It’s a political act that we’re engaging in, but it’s also a spiritual one. And everything we do or say in the coming days needs to be worthy of it.

Not only was the flag not always there; neither was the monument

monument

I say that not to suggest moving the monument. I just want to emphasize that the folks out there muttering darkly about how we’re trying to “erase history” by moving that flag that was put up in 1962 generally don’t know a lot about our postwar history.

I wrote this column to run on July 2, 2000 — one day after the old naval jack was removed from the dome, and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was placed behind the Confederate flag monument.

My purpose in writing it was to let it be known from the very moment of the compromise, that I was not satisfied with it, and saw it as by no means a permanent solution. There was very little appetite for continued debate on the subject at this moment, and I was acutely aware of that. People were flag-weary. But while most folks were celebrating, I wanted to signal that this wasn’t settled, and foreshadow the debate to come…

Here’s the column:

MONUMENT WASN’T ALWAYS IN CURRENT PROMINENT LOCATION

State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, July 2, 2000

Author: BRAD WARTHEN , Editorial Page Editor

An important thing to remember about monuments: They aren’t set in stone.

OK, bad choice of words. They are set in stone, or concrete, or something along those lines. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be modified or moved.

Take, for instance, the Confederate Soldier Monument on the State House grounds. For many of us who wanted the Confederate flag moved off the dome, that was probably the least desirable place of all to put its replacement. Unfortunately, if the flag or one like it was going to fly anywhere, that was probably the most logical location.

Why? Because so many groups that advocated moving the flag said to put it instead in a more historically appropriate setting. And what more appropriate place could there be to put a soldier’s flag than alongside the monument to the soldiers who served under it? It’s just too bad that that monument is in the most visible location on the grounds. There’s nothing we can do about that, is there?

Well, here’s a fun fact to know and tell: The state’s official monument to Confederate soldiers was not always in that location. In fact, that isn’t even the original monument.

I had heard this in the past but just read some confirmation of it this past week, in a column written in 1971 by a former State editor. When I called Charles Wickenberg, who is now retired, to ask where he got his facts, he wasn’t sure after all these years. But the folks at the S.C. Department of Archives and History were able to confirm the story for me. It goes like this:

The original monument, in fact, wasn’t even on the State House grounds. It was initially erected on Arsenal Hill, but a problem developed – it was sitting on quicksand. So it was moved to the top of a hill at the entrance of Elmwood cemetery.

The monument finally made it to the State House grounds in 1879. But it didn’t go where it is now. It was placed instead “near the eastern end of the building, about 60 feet from the front wall and 100 feet from the present site,” Mr. Wickenberg wrote.

But another problem developed: The monument kept getting struck by lightning. “The last stroke” hit on June 22, 1882, and demolished the stone figure.

At this point, if I were one of the folks in charge of this monument, I might have started to wonder about the whole enterprise. But folks back then were made of sterner stuff, and they soldiered on, so to speak.

At this point a new base was obtained, with stirring words inscribed upon it, and “a new statue, chiseled in Italy,” placed at the top. On May 9, 1884, the new monument was unveiled and dedicated in the same location in which we find it today.

So we see that the folks who lived in a time when “the Recent Unpleasantness” was actually recent – and burning in their personal memories – had to try four times before they came up with a way that suited them and their times to honor Confederate sacrifice.

In light of that, why should anyone assume that we’re finished deciding how to remember the Confederacy in our time?

Am I suggesting that we move the monument yet again? Not necessarily. I don’t think anybody’s ready for that battle yet. (Anyway, the Legislature doesn’t meet again until January.)

But I am saying that alternatives to the present arrangement exist. For instance. . . .

Remember the proposal that came up in the heat of the House debate to put the new Army of Northern Virginia battle flag within the context of a group of flags honoring S.C. veterans of other wars? The plan died partly because the details were sketchy and partly because House leaders didn’t want to consider anything new at that point.

Well after the present arrangement was safely passed and signed, that plan was resurrected – in an improved form – by Sen. John Courson, who had already done so much to bring the compromise to fruition over the past six years.

Sen. Courson’s resolution, co-sponsored by the 19 senators who, like him, are military veterans, would create a commission to “design and establish an appropriate monument to be placed on the grounds of the Capitol Complex to recognize and honor the accomplishments of South Carolina veterans who have served honorably, in peace or war, in any of the five branches of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

The monument would consist mainly of the official flags of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Thereby all who served our nation – black and white, from the Revolution to Kosovo – would be honored the same way we are honoring those who served the Confederacy.

The plan leaves site selection to the new commission, but Sen. Courson says there is only one place left on the grounds that could easily accommodate such an addition – the same grassy area where the ANV battle flag was raised on Saturday.

The resolution was filed at the last minute and automatically died at the end of the session. But Sen. Courson introduced it anyway to give lawmakers something to think about between now and next January.

So you see, the present arrangement – with the Confederate banner sticking out so conspicuously by itself in a prominent place – really isn’t set in stone, in the metaphorical sense.

Sen. Courson has presented one viable alternative. There are no doubt others.

I was being generous there suggesting Courson’s idea.

The best proposal to emerge from the debates of that year came from Bob Sheheen — the former speaker, and Vincent’s uncle.

He suggested doing away with the physical, cloth flag altogether, and placing a modest bronze monument somewhere on the grounds to say that the flag once flew here over the dome, and giving some historical perspective.

Unfortunately, that proposal was never really given a chance. The infamous compromise came out of the Senate and then-Speaker David Wilkins allowed only one day — one day — for debate, thereby ensuring that no other proposal would have a chance to catch on and win support. Pressed for time, the House just passed the Senate plan, and moved on.

That day was one of the most frustrating of my professional life. This was before blogging, and The State’s online presence was pretty rudimentary. All day, I kept writing different versions of an editorial based on what was happening in the debate, hoping that Wilkins would allow the debate to continue another day, hoping to have some influence on the outcome — hoping for the chance to push for the Sheheen plan or something like it.

But they pushed on late into the evening, and I had to let the page go without any editorial on the subject, since I didn’t know what the facts would be when readers saw the paper in the morning.

So frustrating. Such a missed opportunity…

150th birthday of ‘The Conquered Banner’ (two days late)

flags Wed

Wait! Who unfurled that banner? And why?

As anyone with a knowledge of such things is aware, the “history” that the SCV and other neoConfederates wish to preserve by keeping the flag flying at the State House is, well, ahistorical.

The spirit and attitude of the people who actually experienced the Recent Unpleasantness, with regard to the flag, was captured most expressively by Father Abram Joseph Ryan, a Catholic cleric who was known as the “Poet-Priest of the South.”

His most famous work, “The Conquered Banner,” was first published on June 24, 1865. So, in honor of its 150th anniversary, I’m sharing it in its entirety, two days late:

THE CONQUERED BANNER by Abram Joseph Ryan (1838-1886)

Furl that Banner, for 'tis weary;
Round its staff 'tis drooping dreary;
  Furl it, fold it, it is best;
For there's not a man to wave it,
And there's not a sword to save it,
And there's no one left to lave it
In the blood that heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
  Furl it, hide it--let it rest!

Take that banner down! 'tis tattered;
Broken is its shaft and shattered;
And the valiant hosts are scattered
  Over whom it floated high.
Oh! 'tis hard for us to fold it;
Hard to think there's none to hold it;
Hard that those who once unrolled it
  Now must furl it with a sigh.

Furl that banner! furl it sadly!
Once ten thousands hailed it gladly.
And ten thousands wildly, madly,
  Swore it should forever wave;
Swore that foeman's sword should never
Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
Till that flag should float forever
  O'er their freedom or their grave!

Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
Cold and dead are lying low;
And that Banner--it is trailing!
While around it sounds the wailing
  Of its people in their woe.

For, though conquered, they adore it!
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those who fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it!
  But, oh! wildly they deplored it!
  Now who furl and fold it so.

Furl that Banner! True, 'tis gory,
Yet 'tis wreathed around with glory,
And 'twill live in song and story,
  Though its folds are in the dust;
For its fame on brightest pages,
Penned by poets and by sages,
Shall go sounding down the ages--
  Furl its folds though now we must.

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently--it is holy--
  For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not--unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people's hopes are dead!

Y’all go over to Facebook and give our governor some love

nikki FB

Phillip Bush brought it to my attention that Nikki Haley was getting some predictable criticism over on Facebook. You know, the usual stuff like:

I hope you never plan on running for any other political office as I, along with many others, will never vote for you again. You caved to liberal pressure and have disrespected this state’s heritage.

And:

The Confederate Flag is the Heritage of South Carolina, never thought I would see you cave to radical pressure! Very sad day, death of the 10th Amendment and freedom of thought!

Well, we know our governor sets a lot of store by Facebook and relies on it for communicating with the public, and I’d hate for her to have second thoughts about the courageous stand she’s taken as a result of anything she reads there.

I don’t think she will — she seemed really determined the other day. And besides, most of the comments I saw are praising and encouraging her.

Well, let’s make that a tidal wave of love and support. if you haven’t gone over there and left an encouraging message, please do so now.

For my part, I wrote this to her, and I mean it:

God bless you, Nikki! And hang in there — don’t let the haters get you down. You’re going to hear from a lot of them, just as everyone who has the courage to act on this does. If there is ANYTHING I can do to help you as you lead us into a better future together, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Call your legislators, urge them to get flag down ASAP

your legislator

This passage in Cindi’s editorial yesterday gigged me to take action:

Gov. Haley’s call to action was an important step, but it was a mere first step. Our legislators voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to allow themselves to engage this issue this summer. But with every passing day, they will hear from more constituents whose hearts have not been changed by the horror of last week, who want no change.

They must hear from us. Like Gov. Haley, we must be respectful of those who revere the flag. Like the governor, we must be firm in our insistence that it be retired to a museum, and done so in a way that brings us all together…

So I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before — having been a professional observer, and not a participant. I called my senator and my representative, Nikki Setzler and Kenny Bingham, to let them know how proud I am, as a constituent, to see them working to move the flag.

I didn’t reach either of them immediately, but left voicemails for both. Kenny called me back later, and I repeated my fervent support for his commitment to getting the flag down, and urged him to call on me if there is anything I can do to help him in this effort in the coming days.

In order to be able to help readers who don’t know who represents them (which would put them in the category of most people), before calling I went through the exercise of using the “Find your legislators” engine on the State House website, and I share it now.

I urge each of you to take the five or ten minutes to call your senator and your representative, and let them know where you stand, and that you care. Because the usual pattern in this sort of situation is that they hear mostly from the people who are angry about what’s happening. So do what you can to counterbalance that.

What in the world got into Ben Affleck?

As we wrestle with our own demons and angels here in South Carolina, let’s pause a moment to look away, look away, look away toward Tinsel Town and ponder this puzzling situation:

When Ben Affleck volunteered to be featured on the PBS genealogy program “Finding Your Roots” last year, he was hoping to find “the roots of his family’s interest in social justice.”

Researchers did turn up plenty for the actor-cum-activist to be pleased about: a mother who was a member of the Freedom Riders, an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War.

But they also found Benjamin Cole, a great-great-great grandparent on his mother’s side. Cole was a sheriff in Chatham County, Ga., in the 1850s and ’60s, according to historical documents uncovered by Family History Insider. And he was the “trustee” of seven slaves.

An attempt to cover up that unwanted detail has led PBS to suspend the show, citing Affleck’s “improper influence” on programming…

OK, it looks like the Ben Affleck we all respected for making “Argo” has disappeared, and been replaced by the old Ben Affleck whom everyone made fun of. To paraphrase “Good Will Hunting,” judging by this, our boy is wicked dumb.

This is Hollywood narcissism carried out to the Nth power, the ultimate example of movie star shallowness: He actually expected to be able to congratulate himself with a family tree full of people who held only 21st-century-approved ideas, and led perfect, ideologically correct lives.

Where does this kind of thinking come from? If he volunteered for this self-stroking show (I’ve seen a few minutes of it a couple of times, and come away wondering why anyone but the celebrity himself would care about some celebrity’s great-grandparents), why would he not want his actual ancestry to be revealed? What would be the point?

Folks, I had at least five great-great grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy. One of them owned slaves — possibly others as well, but I only know about this one. Whatever he was like as an individual — and I have no way of really knowing — there is no question that he was of the class that brought us the Civil War. He was a member of the South Carolina General Assembly both before and after the war.

Over the years, I’ve heard all these SCV types, in the midst of their making excuses for the flag, say that their ancestors didn’t own slaves, so don’t blame them. Sometimes I want to say to them, Well, my ancestors did, so why don’t you just hush up and let those of us with standing in this matter try to address the problem?

But I don’t, of course, for fear that that would sound, you know, kinda like I’m looking down on these folks for being from the slaveless classes. Which is more than a little uncool on a number of levels… It’s bad enough that I catch myself looking down on them for being so WRONG. As the Pope says, Who am I to judge?

Here’s the thing: I am in no way complicit in anything that people I never even knew did. You have to be pretty confused to think otherwise. But let’s just say that knowing my ancestry makes the horrendous sin of starting the bloodiest war in our history and committing treason against the nation I love just a bit more real to me.

Are we not put on this Earth to recognize and correct the sins and mistakes of our forebears? Aren’t we supposed to learn from the past, not just bow down to it?

Apparently not, if you’re Ben Affleck.

Why does his silliness bother me? Because he’s doing exactly what these people who defend the flag say that those of us who want it down are doing: Trying to erase the past, to deny it. When applied to those of us who’ve been working to get the flag down all these years, that’s absurd.

But then, some movie star has to go and act exactly the way the neo-Confederates claim the rest of us are acting.

So needless to say, I’m more than a little disgusted…

SCV presser: The most dramatic example of the human capacity for self-delusion that I have ever seen in my life

wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina

OK, the really nutty stuff is starting now, with Clementa Pinckney not even in the ground yet.

I just watched the Sons of Confederate Veterans presser on WIS, and I have never in my life seen anyone so completely delusional as this guy who spoke, identified as “Commander” Leland Summers.

Wow. Wow.

The essence is that, as he looks around him at the miraculous things that have happened in the last few days, he sees the precise opposite of what sane people see: Instead of the unprecedented unity and reconciliation that we’ve all seen between black and white, Democrat and Republican, he sees the “race war” that Dylann Roof wanted.

He says that if Roof is seeing any of what’s happening, “He laughs in our faces,” saying “‘Look what I did!'”

Wow. Wow. Wow.

I watched the thing live, not having had time to get over to the State House myself. I hope they’re keeping a recorded up to where you can go watch it, because you will witness a technological miracle — somehow, WIS managed to transport a TV camera to an alternative universe, and transmit the video back to this one. First Netflix, now this.

It’s a universe where up is down, right is wrong, left is right. I always thought the Superman comics devoted to the Bizarro world were pretty silly, but we just saw video transmitted from that planet.

And it’s just one completely backward statement after another. For instance, he says “If Sen. Pinckney were here today, he would call for peace and unity,” instead of what we’re seeing.

But fella, that’s exactly what we are seeing. We’re seeing the most profound, heart-warming, soul-enriching display of peace and unity that I ever hope to witness this side of heaven. Where Have You Been?

He calls these magnificent developments “cultural genocide,” saying, “The United States of America is killing itself from the inside out.”

Cue the theme music from “The Twilight Zone.”

If there’s anyone left out there unconvinced that the flag needs to come down — and I know that with Glenn McConnell on board, there can’t be many of you left — please watch this stunning performance, as soon as the recording is available (I’ll embed it here once I see it). You will see just how confused, messed-up, inarticulate, sputtering and irrational the folks who still want the flag to fly truly are. And unless you’re pretty messed-up yourself, you won’t want to have anything to do with that.

Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow…

SCV

Glenn McConnell sends out College of Charleston resolution urging removal of the Confederate flag

Now there’s something I never thought I’d type. But then, I never expected anything like what I saw on Monday.

Here’s what McConnell sent out to alumni (and here’s a link):

Alumni:Today, the College of Charleston Board of Trustees approved two resolutions, one regarding the renaming of a Colonial Scholarship as the Cynthia Graham Hurd Memorial Scholarship and the other concerning the Confederate battle flag.
Please see the resolutions below.
Sincerely,

Glenn

Glenn McConnell ’69
President
College of Charleston
66 George Street Charleston, SC 29424
843-953-5500

Resolution Concerning Renaming One of the Colonial Scholarships the Cynthia Graham Hurd Memorial Scholarship 
 
Whereas, Cynthia Graham Hurd was a member of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and was a victim in the tragic events of June 17, 2015;
Whereas, Cynthia Graham Hurd was the College’s longest-serving part-time librarian, having been at the College since the 1990s;
Whereas, Cynthia Graham Hurd worked full time for the Charleston County Library system as a librarian and branch manager for more than three decades;
Whereas, Cynthia Graham Hurd was known for her quick wit, sense of humor and optimism;
Whereas, Cynthia Graham Hurd, during her life and through her work, represented the very best of our College and our beloved Charleston community;
Be it resolved, the College of Charleston Board of Trustees now and forever designates one of its most prestigious academic scholarships for South Carolinians as the Cynthia Graham Hurd Memorial Scholarship.

Resolution Concerning the Confederate Battle Flag on State House Grounds 
 
Whereas, the tragic events of June 17, 2015, occurred in Charleston, our beloved home city, and near our campus footprint;
Whereas, the city of Charleston lost nine pillars of our community, including Cynthia Graham Hurd, a longtime librarian and exceptional educator at the College of Charleston;
Whereas, the College of Charleston has and continues to play an integral role in the healing process of our city, our region and our state;
Whereas, members of the General Assembly have passed a concurrent resolution “concerning the South Carolina Infantry Battle Flag of the Confederate States of America and surrounding arrangement located at the Confederate Soldier Monument on the grounds of the State Capitol Complex”;
Whereas, the Board of Trustees is the governing body of the College of Charleston and represents the institution;
Be it resolved, the College of Charleston Board of Trustees supports the efforts of the state’s many political, civic and business leaders in urging for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina State House grounds.
Yes, that Glenn McConnell. While it was the board of trustees that acted, for him to be the messenger is extraordinary.

An open letter to Glenn McConnell

I was looking around to see whether anyone had spoken to Glenn McConnell during the past week. It was interesting to see national media “discovering” the unique individual we have known for so long.

One such story noted that McConnell is declining interviews until after the funerals of the dead from Mother Emanuel. That’s what I would expect; it’s the sort of sense of propriety that characterizes him.

Then, I ran across this at the site Inside Higher Ed, and I thought I’d share:

An Open Letter to College of Charleston President Glenn F. McConnell

June 22, 2015 – 6:17pm

Dear President McConnell,

First, please accept my condolences on the loss of your friend and former colleague,Rev. Clementa Pinckney, as well as our mutual colleague, College of Charleston librarian Cynthia Hurd. Their deaths, and the deaths of Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson at the hands of a white supremacist terrorist are a tragedy that we can hardly imagine. These people were giants in our community, and we feel the collective pain of their absence, but I also know the loss is particularly personal to you.

I am writing to you because you are the leader of my college and one of the most influential people in the state of South Carolina.

I am asking you to support the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds.

I know that you are a student and practitioner of the principles of servant leadership, as demonstrated during your time in the legislature, and over the past year as you’ve guided College of Charleston. You’re well aware of the controversy surrounding your initial selection as our president, and yet, in a short time, by listening to others and meeting the needs of those you lead, you’ve convinced many that you were the right choice all along.

You are now serving a different constituency than in 2000, when, as a member of the state legislature, you helped broker the compromise that removed the flag from the capitol dome to the Confederate memorial on the grounds. Then, you were looking for a solution that would defuse a politically volatile situation. Even as you declared, “Many of us who love the flag would have preferred it stayed on the dome,” you recognized that its removal was necessary.

It is clear that the legislature will soon be tasked to consider the removal of the flag from the grounds entirely. A number of your Republican former colleagues have already expressed their desire to retain the flag in its place of honor. Many say they are “undecided” or have yet to commit to a position. A statement from you in support of removal may help prevent the kind of contentious battle we do not need at this time.

If the Confederate battle flag once symbolized “heritage, not hate,” the actions of the white supremacist terrorist who proudly posed with the flag, as well as symbols of Apartheid South Africa, before murdering nine Black people in the midst of a Bible study, have rendered this distinction meaningless.

Perhaps we can argue that the flag was misappropriated by the white supremacist terrorist, the same way it was misappropriated by those who originally hoisted the flag to the top of the S.C. Capital dome in defiance of the Civil Rights Movement and support of segregation in 1961.

I accept the private and deep feelings of pride and honor absent any racial animosity that many people associate with the flag. I can respect them even as I do not share them.

But those private feelings no longer outweigh the public symbolism of a flag that for many declares them as inherently unequal. It is a flag that has been adopted by an internal terrorist enemy that we must band together to defeat.

Sadly, President McConnell, the picture of you from 1999, showing you posing in front of the flag at your family’s old memorabilia store, for me, is now indelibly associated with this heinous act. I can no longer explain it to people who ask me about College of Charleston. It is inconsistent with the pride I feel for this place and my respect for your leadership this past year.

This is, in many ways, unfair. Signaling hate is obviously not your intention. You have declared yourself a champion of equality and diversity. In fact, one of your first acts as president was to take concrete steps to increase diversity at College of Charleston. You have been walking your talk as a leader.

I hope you agree it is time to take another step.

That which we could not imagine in 1999 or 2000 has now happened in 2015.

Though, if we really search our hearts, we know that these murders were not unimaginable at all, but rather wholly predictable, inevitable even, when we refuse to confront these wounds. The white supremacist terrorist spoke openly of his plans. In his twisted mind, these murders were justified.

He found comfort in this flag, and believed its public display meant that he spoke for many.

We’ve had so many powerful gestures of healing in our community over the last week, proving that the white supremacist terrorist does not speak for us, but we cannot let these moments of solidarity distract us from these larger issues.

Yes, the flag is “just” a symbol, but it is now an irrefutably toxic one. How could we conclude otherwise?

I understand that you believe discussion of the flag should wait until after the victims have been laid to rest. I disagree. While those services help us heal, the severity of the crime also demands justice, the swifter the better. Each day the flag flies on the capitol grounds it may give sustenance to others who share the white supremacist terrorist’s twisted ideology.

This is justice denied. In your most recent message to the college you said, “The College of Charleston will need to be the center for our collective healing.” Removing the flag is only one small step, but it is necessary.

President McConnell, you have the wisdom, and spirit, and influence to help heal your college community and your state.

Please support the removal of the flag from the S.C. State Capitol grounds.

Respectfully,

 

John Warner
Visiting Instructor
College of Charleston

Yes, it would be wonderful for McConnell to lend his support to getting the flag down. He may even do it. If so, the effect would electrifying, among all who know him.

But there’s no way to say now. In the meantime, I was impressed by the letter — respectful, conciliatory, collegial and with just the right tone to persuade. That’s just the kind of tone all of us should adopt as we engage this debate in the coming days.

Those who voted ‘aye,’ and those who voted ‘nay’ on flag

Y’all can get this from various other sources, but it took me a few minutes, so for your convenience, here’s who voted “aye” in the S.C. House on moving toward taking the flag down:

house yea

And here are those who voted “nay,” those who were absent, and those who just did not vote:

house nay

The Senate pass the amendment by a voice vote. The only ones making a point of registering their dissent were:

  1. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg
  2. Tom Corbin, R-Greenville
  3. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens

People used to say of the eccentricities of the Lowcountry that “there’s something in the water” down there in Charleston. I wonder what they’re drinking in the Upstate…

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.

flavor

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.

counter

Counter-demonstration

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.

cowbell

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.

console

Consolation

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.