Category Archives: Confederate flag

The State House monument to Confederate women

Confederate women monument

As part of my daily walking regimen, I had probably passed by it scores of times over the last few months, but never turned my head at the right moment to notice it — which is weird, because once you notice it, it’s hugely imposing.

I’d missed it because if you’re walking up the concrete incline from Pendleton toward the State House, you can’t see it until your eyes are at the right level, and if you don’t look more than 90 degrees to your left at that precise instant, it’s behind you. (When I took the shot above, only my head was higher than the base of the statue.)

Yesterday, the freshly-planted (I think) flowers caught my eye first, and as my eye rose above them, I saw the monument.

It’s so huge and elaborate, it’s kind of startling when you first see it, so close by.

I looked it up when I got back to the office, and found this page, which told me:

The Monument to Confederate Women, called Angels of the Confederacy, was erected in 1912. The sculptor was Frederick W. Ruckstull. The inscription on the northwest side reads: “In this monument, generations unborn shall hear the voice of a grateful people testifying to the sublime devotion of the women of South Carolina in their country’s need. Their unconquerable spirit strengthened the thin lines of gray, their tender care was solace to the stricken. Reverence for God and unfaltering faith in a righteous cause inspired heroism that survived the immolation of sons, and courage that bore the agony of suspense and the shock of disaster. The tragedy of the Confederacy may be forgotten, but the fruits of the noble service of the daughters of the South are our perpetual heritage.”

The cult of the Lost Cause ran to flowery exaggeration, didn’t it? But of course, that was the style of the time. And what was being described was something that stirred strong emotions.

The really sad thing about it, though, is that the real tragedy escaped the practitioners of this faith. It escaped them, and in some cases yet escapes some among us, that all of that suffering, which was entirely real and even awe-inspiring, was in the service not of a “righteous cause” but of its opposite. The ultimate tragedy is that South Carolina and the other states started the whole thing, causing so many to suffer, to defend the institution that was the central evil of our history.

In other words, it would have been extremely helpful if that “faith” had been less “unfaltering.”

But it wasn’t, and our collective psyche as a people was further scarred by what happened as a result…

Another angle so you can see the base, and know how massive this thing is.

Another angle so you can see the base, and know how massive this thing is.

One place I did not expect to find cheesy artificial diversity

secessionist

Original photography is expensive. So website designers on a budget often opt for stock photography.

If you choose well, you find some that goes well with your site, enhancing your message or the image of your organization without distracting.

But if you choose poorly, you can come across as cheesy and artificial.

One thing stock photo providers offer businesses and organizations is the chance to project “diversity,” which may be desirable to the client. This can work, but like anything it can look out of place or contrived, and not only because the viewer is likely to ask, “How does a photographer find a group of people who not only represent every race under the sun, but are all wholesomely good-looking?”

stockAnyway, I ran across that kind of photo today in the unlikeliest of places: the website of the Secessionist Party of South Carolina.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Party chair James Bessenger has been trying hard to demonstrate that his organization is not racist, most laughably notably by pushing for recognition of basically nonexistent black Confederate soldiers.

But, come on. Surely we’re not to think that this is the aftermath of a Secessionist Party board meeting. These kids look like they just collapsed in exhaustion on that hilltop after too many takes of singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing…

Anyway, it was a bit… incongruous….

If you’re a white Southerner and you think your ancestors owned no slaves, you should probably dig a little deeper

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a correction that proves the point of this post. While I knew I had quite a few ancestors who owned slaves, just for contrast I mentioned one great-great grandfather (Henry Waller) who did NOT. I was wrong. A first cousin has written to let me know Henry owned at least one slave, whom he mentioned in letters home. I hope to get copies of those letters soon. So even I am guilty of falsely believing that one ancestor owned no slaves…

Last week, Catherine Templeton used the standard cliche rationalization for why she’s proud of her Confederate heritage:

“It’s important to note that my family didn’t fight because we had slaves,” Templeton said to a room mostly filled with university students. “My family fought because the federal government was trying to tell us how to live.”

We won’t get into the fact that the one thing white Southerners — the ones in charge — were afraid the federal government would make them do was stop owning slaves. And I’ll point out only in passing that if your ancestors owned no slaves and took up arms for the Confederacy, then they were victims of a major con job. Some of my own ancestors were duped in the same manner.

But not all of them. I’ve long known that some of my ancestors were slaveowners. But it wasn’t until I started seriously building out my family tree that I realized how many of them fit that description.

As much as I love talking genealogy — as y’all know, to your sorrow — I hesitated to post this. But my tree is the only one I know this well, and I think what I have found argues against the claims that all too many white Southerners make. And I think people should know that. So here goes…

Patrick Henry Bradley

Patrick Henry Bradley

At first, I had thought that slaveholding was limited to my paternal grandmother’s people, the Bradleys (for whom I’m named). Patrick Henry Bradley, her grandfather, was one of the leading citizens in his part of Abbeville County. When the War came, he raised his own company and led it in the field, but soon returned home to serve out the rest of the war in the Legislature. His eldest son stayed at the front, and was killed at Trevillian Station in 1864.

I would have assumed that the Bradleys were slaveholders just because of Patrick Henry’s service in the Legislature, which was largely made up of the slaveholding class. But I don’t have to assume; I have documentary and anecdotal evidence to that effect. I don’t know whether he had a lot of slaves, but he had some.

James Chesnut Jr.

James Chesnut Jr.

I had accepted this as fact long ago, but I had assumed that my ancestors in other branches of the family were generally innocent of having owned other humans. Not based on anything, really, beyond the fact that none of them were quite as upscale as the Bradleys. Of course, when I say “Bradleys,” I’m lumping in a lot of folks who bore different surnames — pretty much that whole quarter of my tree. For instance, James Chesnut — husband of famous diarist Mary Boykin and one of the leading men in Confederate South Carolina — is a 3rd cousin four times removed. (That means my 6th-great grandfather, Alexander Samuel Chesnut, was his great-great grandfather.) He was in that Bradley fourth.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following paragraph is dead wrong. Henry Waller DID own at least one slave, I am reliably informed. I hope to have evidence of that soon…)

But I had liked to think that another great-great grandfather, William Henry Waller, was more typical of the rest of my tree — just an ordinary soldier who got caught up in forces bigger than he was. I’ve never seen or heard anything to indicate Henry owned slaves, or money or much else. But admittedly, I don’t know a lot about him. He went AWOL to visit the family farm in Marion County when his unit was marching north toward Virginia. My great-grandmother — who died when I was 4 years old (yep, that’s how recent that war was: someone who lived then overlapped with my life) — was born nine months later. She, my mother’s father’s mother, never knew her father, because Henry died of disease at the siege of Petersburg. Consequently, I know practically nothing about him. I don’t even know who his parents were, or whether he had siblings. That line is the shortest on my tree, because of that break.

The old lady is the daughter of Henry Waller. The big-headed kid on her lap is me.

The old lady is my great-grandmother, the daughter of Henry Waller, who died at Petersburg. The big-headed kid on her lap, grooving on the apples, is me. This was 1957.

I picture Henry as being one of those guys like Virgil Caine in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” A sympathetic character caught up in events and trying to get by the best he could. And I tended to lump others from the non-Bradley portions of the family into that category.

But I was wrong, as I learned from early census records after I finally paid to join Ancestry and gained access to that site’s documentary “hints” about my forebears. Later census records name everyone in a household (although their names are often spelled wrong). But in the early decades of the 19th century, the records would just name the “head of household,” and then give a demographic breakdown of the rest of the household — X number of “Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25,” and Y number of “Free White Persons – Under 16.”

But the really revelatory data comes under such headings as “Slaves – Males – 26 thru 44.” I assume the records were kept that way so each slave could be counted as three-fifths of a person for the sake of electoral apportionment.

Perusing these records can be a real eye-opener. While Henry Waller may not have owned slaves, others on my mother’s side did. Take, for instance, my 4th-great grandfather Henry C. Foxworth, also of Marion County: There were six slaves in his household in 1820. This sort of thing will pop up again and again in a white Southern family. However humble and righteous you may think your ancestors were, a family tree is likely far more diverse — here I mean economically diverse in particular — than you give it credit for being. And the people who bore your surname are only a tiny fraction of the people from whom you are descended who lived during the centuries of slavery. Until I really got into building my tree, I had no idea I was descended from anyone named “Foxworth.”

Wesley Samuel Foxworth marker(By the way, like Patrick Henry Bradley, Henry Foxworth also lost a son in the war. My great-great-great grandfather Wesley Samuel Foxworth was also killed during that Petersburg campaign. Fortunately for me, his daughter from whom I am descended had been born 12 years earlier.)

I am three-fourths South Carolinian, but hey, at least I won’t find any of that slavery stuff among the Warthens up in Maryland, right? So I thought — somewhat irrationally, since Maryland (although it stayed in the Union) was a slave state.

My great-grandmother Rebecca Jane Rabbitt — who married my great-grandfather Warthen — died in 1898, two days after the birth of her sixth child. She was 35. But I’ve been a lot luckier tracing her tree than poor Henry Waller’s, taking it back to the Middle Ages. (Through her, I’m a Tudor, making Henry VIII a cousin.)

But one of the more interesting things I’ve found on that line is much more recent — it involves her grandfather, John Thomas Rabbitt Jr., 1779-1863. It’s an indenture contract. One William Frumfree, described as “a colored man,” owed $40 to the state of Maryland, and was in jail in 1829 because he couldn’t pay it. My ancestor paid it for him, in exchange for which… well, here’s a quote from the document Mr. Frumfree signed:

… I do hereby bind myself to the service of said Rabbitt in any manner in which he may chose to use me for and during the term of one year from the date hereof to be considered and treated as the slave of said Rabbitt during my term of service as contracted by this paper…

Oh, and just in case you thought that would be lighter service than being a permanent slave, there’s this language:

… the said Rabbitt is to be subject to no liability for his treatment or chastisement of me which he would not own in the case of one of his own slaves for life…

But hey, don’t think the only thing Mr. Frumfree got was out of the jail. He was also paid “the sum of one cent.” No, really. It’s all in the document signed on May 13, 1829.

About all I can say for John Thomas is that as of the 1820 and the 1840 censuses, he didn’t own any slaves. So, there’s that.

Why do I tell you all of this? To shame myself, or to perversely brag about what wheeler-dealers my ancestors were? No. Of course I’m uncomfortable with this topic and these details, but my point is that I highly doubt that my tree is unusual. Note that these slaveowners I’ve mentioned had nothing to do with each other. They never met. They were from very different families living in different places under different circumstances. In other words, these incidences of slaveholding were independent of each other.

And it crops up often enough that I can’t believe I’m anywhere near alone in this. Almost half of white South Carolina families (46 percent) owned slaves. What do you think the chances are that none of the many families that led do you owned human property?

If other white Southerners really knew who their ancestors were, you’d seldom hear a proud neoConfederate say, ever-so-self-righteously, that his (or her) ancestors didn’t own slaves. The odds are against it being a fact.

It is a wise child that knows his own father, and a wiser one who knows even more of his forebears, and faces up to reality.

A look back: Henry’s 2010 interview with the pro-flag guys

wary

Remember the squirm-inducing video of Nikki Haley being interviewed by some pro-Confederate flag guys back in 2010? Remember how she meekly gave them the reassurances they sought, while looking like a hostage forced to say these things?

Something caused me to look back at that (I think it was a comment on this blog, but it may have been on an old post, because I’m not finding it now), and to note that Henry McMaster, too, was interviewed by the same guys at the time.

“These guys,” by the way, were a group that redundantly called themselves “South Carolina Palmetto Patriots,” and said this about their agenda on their now-defunct website:

The Federal government has stolen our liberties and rights and nullified our ability to self govern as a state. It is the obligation of all people of our great state to restore unto ourselves and our children these inalienable rights as set forth in The Constitution of the United States of America.

As I noted at the time, that was their 2010 agenda and not their 1860 agenda, but I can see how you might have been confused.

I’d show you more, but the URL they were using then takes you to a page that shows a picture of a hat rack and the words, “This site has stepped out for a bit.”

Yeah, no kidding.

Back to the McMaster videos: There are six clips of about 10 minutes each, and there are commonalities with the Haley clips. For one thing, Henry sometimes looked very wary of these guys and their questions, as I think you can see in the still above. Or maybe that’s just me; I share the image so you can decide yourself.

He doesn’t seem to be having a rollicking good time. Still, he gives them the answers they seek, promptly and perfunctorily, as they tick off their list of traits that make an acceptable person in their book.

In the first clip, he starts out with a recitation of the 10th Amendment’s limitations on the federal government, which seemed welcome to these (as we learn later) latter-day nullificationists. At times, it takes on the cadences of the Catholic baptismal rite — if you’re a Protestant, you’ve heard it in “The Godfather:”

Do you reject Satan?
I do.
And all his works?
I do.
And all his empty promises?
I do.

Only on this video, it’s:

Have you read the constitution of the state of South Carolina?

Yes.

Do you believe we should be governed by this document?

Yes.

On that second “yes,” Henry seems a bit impatient. Of course, it is an idiotic and insulting question to ask an officer of the court, but you get that sort of thing from the kinds of extremists who believe that they are the only ones who understand what the constitution in question truly means.

Continuing…

Do you think it is better to have the government spending money to improve the economy or have tax cuts to improve the economy?

Tax cuts. I don’t think there’s any question about that.

Do you think we should amend our state constitution to include the right of petition and recall by the people…?

Yes….

Are you a Christian? What is your current church membership?

Yes. First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina; I’ve been there my whole life.

After that last, there is a pause, and the questioner explains, “Some of these questions are designed for other candidates…,” because, as he notes twice, he had known Henry was a Christian.

Which candidates might those be?, one wonders…

Eventually, after Henry makes it clear that he adamantly disapproves of illegal immigration, they get down to the nitty-gritty, at 8:10 in the clip:

Do you support keeping the Confederate Battle Flag in its current location…?

Yes.

At that point, the questioner turns things over to “Bob,” who possesses an accent that gives Henry’s a good run for its money. The grilling on this subject continues to the end of the first clip, and all the way to 5:16 on the second one — after which “Bob” moves on to nullification.

When I listened to all this this morning, I typed up Henry’s answers in some detail — and my PC crashed before I could save it. Suffice to say, he further assured them that the flag flying on the State House grounds was a settled matter. Everyone had had their say during the debate before the “compromise,” and that was that.

Of course, he now says that the removal of the flag is a settled matter (if I read it correctly), so let’s give him credit for that.

I confess I didn’t spend an hour listening to all six clips. Do so, if you’re so inclined, and share with us what you find. I just found it interesting to revisit, however briefly. I’ll leave you with this: As marginal as these guys might have seemed in 2010, the video seems almost quaint today — after Charlottesville. And at the same time chilling, after Mother Emanuel…

A discussion Friday about lessons from Charlottesville

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Remember a couple of months back, when I moderated a forum for the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council about the Bull Street redevelopment project?

Well, tomorrow we’re going to have another one that may interest you. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the offices of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland St.

The topic is “Lessons from Charlottesville.” The idea is to have a discussion about the implications for our own community arising from the issues raised there.

We expect 30 or so people, including Tameika Isaac Devine from city council, J.T. McLawhorn from the Columbia Urban League, and Matt Kennell from the City-Center Partnership.

Bryan came to the Bull Street one, and I think he found the discussion interesting. I did, anyway.

Whether y’all can come or not, I’d like a little advice. I’ve thrown together a short list of questions to offer to the group. The questions are just ways to keep the discussion going as needed. These discussions don’t follow a formal structure, with questions followed by timed answers, or anything like that.

Here are the ones I have. Suggestions?

  1. Could what happened in Charlottesville happen here? If not, why not? And if so, what can we do to prevent it?
  2. Even if we are spared the violence we saw in Virginia, how should we here in the Midlands respond to the issues that confrontation laid bare?
  3. President Trump has been roundly criticized for his response to what happened. What would you like to hear elected leaders in South Carolina say regarding these issues?
  4. Being the capital of the first state to secede, we have more Confederate monuments here than in most places. What, if anything, should we do with them?
  5. Has anyone present had a change of attitude or perspective, something that you’d like to share, as a result of the re-emergence of these issues onto the nation’s front burner?

1024px-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA

KKK questions in the 5th grade, and the ‘virtues of slavery’

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids...

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids…

Well, we’re in The New York Times again. This time it’s for asking a bit much of 5th-graders in Irmo:

“You are a member of the K.K.K.,” the fifth-grade homework assignment read. “Why do you think your treatment of African-Americans is justified?”

The work sheet, given on Thursday as part of a lesson on the Reconstruction period, caused an outcry after one student’s uncle, Tremain Cooper, posted a photo of the assignment on Facebook.

“This is my little 10-year-old nephew’s homework assignment today,” he wrote. “He’s home crying right now.”

Mr. Cooper identified the teacher as Kerri Roberts of Oak Pointe Elementary School in Irmo, S.C., a suburb of Columbia, and added, “How can she ask a 5th grader to justify the actions of the KKK???”

Reached by phone, Ms. Roberts’s husband said she was unavailable and was “not going to comment on anything.”…

Hoo, boy.

Of course, that’s a perfectly fine question to ask, to get the ol’ gray matter working — in a graduate poli sci course. I think it’s a shame that Ms. Roberts — who is on suspension pending investigation of the incident — isn’t commenting, because I would dearly love to know the thinking behind asking 5th-graders to tackle it.

Had she even looked at the lesson before she passed it out? Or was this enterprise on her part? Had she decided to go for a real challenge, asking her students to reach for understanding beyond their years?

One thing I’ll say in defense of this: It’s a more reasonable question than this one asked in California:

In February, second graders at Windsor Hills Elementary School in Los Angeles were asked to solve a word problem: “The master needed 192 slaves to work on plantation in the cotton fields. The fields could fill 75 bags of cotton. Only 96 slaves were able to pick cotton for that day. The missus needed them in the Big House to prepare for the Annual Picnic. How many more slaves are needed in the cotton fields?”

Correct answer: “That’s a trick question! Masters don’t have to do math!”

Of course, we have at least one person here in South Carolina who might love to be asked such a question. His letter to the editor appeared in The State today:

Teach truth about the virtues of slavery

The recent controversy about Confederate monuments and flags ultimately revolves around one man and one question. The man is John C. Calhoun, the great philosopher and statesman from South Carolina, and the spiritual founding father of the Confederacy. The question is: Was Calhoun right or wrong when he argued, from the 1830s until his death in 1850, that the South’s Christian slavery was “a positive good” and “a great good” for both whites and blacks?

If Calhoun was wrong, then there may be grounds for removing monuments and flags.

But if Calhoun was right, the monuments and flags should stay and be multiplied, blacks should be freed from oppressive racial integration so they can show the world how much they can do without white folk, the Southern states should seize their freedom and independence, and the North should beg the South’s pardon for the war.

Calhoun’s views are unpopular today because, since 1865, the Yankee-imposed education system has taught all Americans that the South’s Christian slavery was evil and that everyone is equal. But unpopularity cannot make a truth untrue, and popularity cannot make error truth.

WINSTON MCCUEN
AIKEN

“If Calhoun was right….”

Excuse me while I sit here and try to come up with a justification of Mr. McCuen’s point of view. It might be on the six-weeks test…

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

Yikes! A statue even neoConfederates should want taken down

forrestMeant to share this the other day. It was in a Tweet from Noelle Phillips, who used to work at The State:

Yowee! Never mind the meaning! That is one ugly statue!

Personally, I would lead the charge to get that taken down — if I were the president of a society dedicated to protecting the reputation of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Meanwhile, folks who don’t want the Confederacy glorified would seem likely to demand that this one stay up.

The sculptor must have really hated the early KKK leader. Do they keep that up to frighten children? Or to make them laugh? I think the former would be more likely to happen…

Cindi’s proposal with regard to monuments

soldier (1)

I meant to call attention to Cindi Scoppe’s column yesterday

In light of the fact that, without two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers, no one in South Carolina can remove a Confederate monument from any public space — whether state or local — she dusted off her idea for an alternative:

… I was so delighted by Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s idea. Well, it’s not actually Mr. Tecklenburg’s idea. It’s one I’ve proposed numerous times, and it certainly wasn’t original to me. But it’s a great idea. Leave up the monuments — not that South Carolinians have any choice — but add signs to provide context.

To Mr. Tecklenberg, it’s not just about doing an end-run around the Legislature. As he told Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper last week: “I don’t believe we’ve done a good job of telling the whole story of slavery and Reconstruction and what happened there and Jim Crow. One hundred years from now, you want people to know the great lengths the white folks who were in charge around here went to try to put racial barriers back into place.”

First on Mr. Tecklenberg’s add-to-rather-than-subtracting-from list is a towering monument to John C. Calhoun, which includes the words “Truth, Justice and the Constitution” and little else. Like the fact that he provided the intellectual underpinnings for the Confederacy….

As a way of protesting the Legislature’s habit of telling local governments what they can and can’t do, it’s an excellent approach. A sign saying, “This monument is still here because the General Assembly won’t let us take it down” has merit — if, indeed, you do want to take it down (a subject on which I remain agnostic until you tell me which monument where, and give me time to think about it).

And beyond that, there is also merit to adding educational information to monuments, if we choose to leave them up. Perhaps this approach would be a good substitute for the current Heritage Act, if lawmakers would consider it.

At least, it would be a good approach in theory.

In practice, well… Can you imagine how hard it would be to get a truly representative group of people — by which I mean, representing every possible position regarding Confederate monuments, which is the kind of panel the Legislature would (and should) appoint — to agree on the wording of such a plaque?

By contrast, the decision to take a statue down or keep it up is child’s play…

One way to think about Confederate monuments

The soldier monument, back before the flag came down.

The soldier monument, back before the flag came down.

Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist for the NYT, set out an interesting train of thought in a dozen Tweets today. Maybe they’ll turn into a column; maybe not. But here are the Tweets:

I like the dichotomy — separating monuments to soldiers who suffered and died in a cause that was above their pay grade from monuments and plaques to people who had a choice, and decided policy.

Oh, by the way, the monuments debate is coming home now. I suppose we’ll need to discuss it:

But, along the lines of Douthat’s argument, I can’t see ever going after the generic Confederate soldier monument that stands at the juncture of Main and Gervais.

In any case, I’m with Joel Sawyer on this point. If you want to go after statues of individuals, I’d start with Ben Tillman. But by way of full disclosure, I suppose I’m biased: My grandmother’s family was squarely opposed to Tillman, which made it awkward when he was their neighbor in Washington. And my newspaper The State (it’s still my newspaper) was founded to fight the Tillman machine.

So consider the source…

About what happened in Charlottesville…

Lee

Y’all, I’ve had quite a few thoughts about this, but they’re all pretty involved and would take me time to develop and I haven’t had the time. But for now, I’ll do what I should have done Saturday — put up a sort of Open Thread devoted to what happened at Charlottesville, so y’all can get a conversation rolling.

Some possible avenues of exploration:

  1. Trump’s statement — As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think the president’s job description should, normally speaking, include issuing statements in reaction to every traumatic thing that happens across the country. But if he’s going to say something, it should be something that, for starters, doesn’t make matters worse. Trump utterly failed to meet that standard. And it wasn’t just his usual complete lack of thoughtfulness or hamhandedness with the English language. We know why he responded the way he did: He does not share the fundamental values of most Americans. He actually values the rock-solid backing of white supremacists, and doesn’t want to say anything that erodes that support.
  2. How do we prevent such violence without violating the 1st Amendment? If the ACLU stood up for the “right” of Illinois Nazis to march through Skokie, surely it would sue to uphold that right with this latter-day group of racist yahoos. And who’s to say the ACLU would be wrong? Personally, I think they were wrong in the Skokie days — sure, the Hitler fan club had the right to say what it wanted, but letting them do it in Skokie is too much of an offense against human dignity to allow it. This case seems fuzzier. Again, yes, they have free speech rights. But they went out of their way to express themselves in a place guaranteed to create as much tension, and likely violence, as possible. Should that be allowed? Does the free-speech clause guarantee freedom of venue? Such as, say, a crowded theater?
  3. If there would to be such a rally in Columbia, would you attend? I mean to protest, or for any other reason. Would you see yourself as having an obligation to show up in public to register your disapproval, or would you dismiss it by staying away and not giving the Brownshirt types the attention they crave? I can see arguments both ways.
  4. What about that Robert E. Lee statue? I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to dignify the supposed “issue” that motivated the demonstration. But I mention it only to say that I have no position on the “issue.” What the University of Virginia chooses to display or to take down is none of my business, and I think Charlottesville homeboy Thomas Jefferson would back me on that. I feel like we have enough going on here in South Carolina and don’t need to weigh in on what they do up there. I would argue that any of those white supremacists who were not from Virginia lack such standing as well…

Anyway, that’s for starters. Happy conversing…

What do you MEAN, ‘I am proud of the Confederacy?’

A moment in our history that makes ME proud: Leaders stand with Nikki Haley as she calls for the flag to come down.

A moment in our history that makes ME proud: Leaders stand with Nikki Haley as she calls for the flag to come down.

First, let’s give Catherine Templeton credit for doing one right thing.

Or rather, for not doing one horrible thing. It would have been truly horrible to, like Sheri Few, play to the Trumpian faction in her party by denouncing the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds.

But she didn’t do that. So, kudos there, as far as it goes.

But then she felt compelled to qualify that by saying, “I am proud of the Confederacy.” She elaborated on the point:

But I am South Carolina born and raised, and I am proud of our history. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, and I don’t apologize for that….

I am proud to be from South Carolina. I am proud of the Confederacy….

I’d like for her to have elaborated a bit more. I’d like for her to have spelled out what it is about the Confederacy that makes her proud.

Templeton

Templeton

I want to know because being proud of the Confederacy — an insurrection against the United States, based in the rebelling states’ wish to continue the institution of slavery (and they were quite specific about that, whatever neoConfederate revisionists may say) — and being proud of South Carolina are not the same thing. What is it about the Confederacy, as opposed to South Carolina, that gives her a warm feeling? Is it just that she has an affinity for, say, a slower, more traditional, politer, more agrarian way of life than the mercantilist, impatient, abrupt way that Yankees chose to live in their big cities?

Is she proud at how many victories the Confederacy won on the battlefield before Gettysburg and Grant turned the tide — is it a purely martial pride in the fighting ability of Southern manhood? If so, how does one separate that pride from the cause? (And don’t try to distract me by pointing out that many individual soldiers owned no slaves and thought they were protecting their homes from “Northern aggression.” When I say “the cause” in speaking of the “Confederacy,” I mean the reason the Confederacy came into being, the frank reason for secession.)

And once you say you’re proud not only of South Carolina but of the Confederacy — the low point in the South Carolina story — it causes me to wonder what else it is about “our history” that makes you proud. Are you proud of the role South Carolina played in the Revolution? Are you proud of John Laurens, the Founder from SC who was a courageous critic of slavery? Do you take pride in the wit of James L. Petigru, who of secession said “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum”? Does your pride turn to science? Does your chest swell at Charles H. Townes invention of the laser? If so, I share your pride.

On the other hand, are you proud of Ben Tillman, Cole Blease and Cotton Ed Smith? I am not.

Here’s a Rorschach test for you: Are you proud of Strom Thurmond? And if so, which version: The Dixiecrat who famously filibustered civil rights? Or Ol’ Strom who later devoted himself to constituent service regardless of the color of the constituent?

Are you proud of his son Paul, who so eloquently explained why the flag had to come down?

Be specific, please.

For my part, I’m deeply proud of my state and its leadership for taking down the flag, and for the reasons and way they did it. Is Catherine Templeton? Or does she merely not want to “second-guess” them for “what the people in the Statehouse did when I wasn’t there?” Because to me, she really seemed to be damning them with faint praise.

My appearance on WIS about the flag plane

wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina

I’ve long thought I fit in the category of people with a face made for radio, but yesterday I even flubbed the talking part a couple of times — and of course, the stumbles made the final cut, since they were in the middle of my most pertinent quotes.

Oh, well. I didn’t set out to be on TV yesterday, but I was asked to after that brief post about the “Confederate Air Force” yesterday, and I generally say “yes” to media requests and speaking engagements.

I did hesitate on this one. I wrote about the flag hundreds of times when it was actually still an issue. Now that it’s behind us completely, I generally stay away from it (and I have little or no interest in the other Confederate controversies around the country, such as what’s happening in New Orleans). But the plane pulling the gigantic imitation naval jack (not the battle flag South Carolinians served under in the Army of Northern Virginia) was a bit hard to ignore, which was the point, of course.

Since this was shared with me by one of my kids via Facebook this morning, I’ll inflict in on y’all…

Confederate Air Force launches raid on Columbia

In this one you can see the plane, but the sun's glare obscures the flag, and I missed the words (I had trouble aiming with the sun in my eyes).

In this one you can see the plane, but the sun’s glare obscures the flag, and I missed the words (I had trouble aiming with the sun in my eyes).

Having those guys waving Confederate banners in front of the State House (even setting one up on a stationary pole, as a way of undoing the legitimate actions of the Legislature),  wasn’t enough. Somebody had to tow one around in the air over downtown.

Some people just never outgrow the urge to get in other people’s faces, do they?

I apologize for the quality of the photos. This was a job for a telephoto lens, not an iPhone. I couldn’t make out the words towed behind the flag, but someone said it said “No Compromise.”

Well, I couldn’t agree more. That “compromise” in 2000 was completely unsatisfactory. The Legislature continues to deserve our thanks for taking down the flag in 2015 without any quibbling about compromises.

What the guy tooling around up there was trying to say remains unclear.

So does the date of Confederate Memorial Day. Why is it the day Stonewall Jackson died? Why not something cheery, like Robert E. Lee’s birthday? Or the day Lynyrd Skynyrd released “Sweet Home Alabama” (June 24, 1974)?

... and here you can see the flag, but the plane's behind the tree.

… and here you can see the flag, but the plane’s behind the tree.

Trump vs. ‘Freedom Caucus:’ Whom do you root for?

This had me shaking my head this morning:

President Trump effectively declared war Thursday on the House Freedom Caucus, the powerful group of hard-line conservative Republicans who blocked the health-care bill, vowing to “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections.

In a morning tweet, Trump warned that the Freedom Caucus would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He grouped its members, all of them Republican, with Democrats in calling for their political defeat — an extraordinary incitement of intraparty combat from a sitting president…

I just don’t feel like I’ve got a dog in that fight; do you? All I could think of to say was this:

Is this what American political discourse has become? A to-the-death battle between irrational fringe elements, with neither side having a clue how to run a government — or even any interest in doing so?

Look at what, thanks to gerrymandering, Republican primaries have become:

The ad battles are heating up in the 5th District special election, including one spot that calls out GOP lawmakers for “folding” on the Confederate flag.

Republican Sheri Few of Lugoff launched her first radio ad in the congressional race this week, attacking “weak Republicans” who voted to remove the Confederate flag at the S.C. State House in 2015 in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

“I’m running for Congress to reject political correctness,” Few says in the ad, a 60-second spot airing in the Columbia market….

And for you aliens who are visiting our planet and trying to understand how our politics work, here’s the exlanation:

Few is competing for right-wing Republican voters in the May 2 primary, which is expected to have a low turnout…

Yep.

Any of y’all ever have an extended conversation with Sheri Few? It’s… an experience.

I suppose I should note that she’s running for a seat vacated by a member of the “Freedom Caucus…”

Sheri Few/2008 file photo

Sheri Few/2008 file photo

Did y’all watch Nikki’s State of the State? Thoughts?

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File photo from the governor’s Facebook page.

CAVEAT: When I wrote this post I had missed something important in the governor’s speech, something that had come during the part I missed. It has bearing on the points I make in the post, and here it is.

I had a Community Relations Council meeting last night, so I only heard the very last part of Nikki Haley’s last State of the State on the radio driving home.

It sounded fine, as fond farewells go. I was a little disappointed by one thing. I heard her talking in a roundabout, indirect way about getting the Confederate flag down:

But above all, I will remember how the good people of South Carolina responded to those tragedies, with love and generosity and compassion, and what that has meant for our state.

I spoke earlier of my dear desire to see the image of South Carolina changed for the better. Standing here tonight, I can say with every confidence that it has happened, that that desire has been fulfilled.

But not because of me. The people of South Carolina accomplished the highest aspiration I had for our state all on their own.

They did it by showing the entire world what love and acceptance looks like. They did it by displaying for all to see the power of faith, of kindness, and of forgiveness. They did it by stepping up to every challenge, through every tragedy, every time.

But I wish she’d spoken about it more directly. When I got a copy of her speech later, I found that it only contained the word “flag” once, and that was in reference to the Clemson flag she and her daughter had hoisted over the State House earlier this week. (NOTE: This counts officially as a sports reference, and fulfills the weekly quota! So if y’all want to talk about that football game the other night, here’s a place for you to do it.)

Which disappointed me. Why? Because I think getting that other flag down was her defining moment, the one when she became the leader of South Carolina, and led us to where our lawmakers had refused for too long to go.

Did you see Obama’s farewell speech the other night? He mentioned getting bin Laden, didn’t he? Of course he did. That’s when he made his bones as commander-in-chief. Well, the flag was when Nikki made hers, only as leader of a mature, rational state where people may not forget, but they forgive, and care about each other.

Yeah, I get that she wanted her speech to be sweetness and light, and didn’t want to say anything that stirred ill feeling — and there are those who resent taking down the flag, although they’ve mostly been fairly quiet. And it seems safe to assume there’s a bit of a correlation between those folks and the set that voted for her soon-to-be boss.

But that was her proudest moment. I think it’s easy for people to downplay her role, but I’m telling you, I’ve known too many governors who didn’t want to touch that flag, or even talk about it. And I’ve known others who started to do something, but backed away, or accepted a “compromise” that settled nothing — because they saw that as the best they could get out of our Legislature. And maybe they were right, at the time.

But the thing that Nikki did was recognize the moment when it came, and seize it without hesitation. (That’s a huge part of leadership — recognizing when people are ready to be led. One of the secrets of Lincoln’s extraordinary achievements was his uncanny ability to see exactly when he could lead the country to do things it had always refused to do before.)

It was a moment in which the whole state was in shock and morning. And there were those who protested that this wasn’t the time to act, before the dead had even been buried. But sometimes that exactly when one must act, because later would be much too late.

When she stood up and said, essentially, Let’s not let this summer pass without getting that flag down for good — no fooling around, no compromises, that made all the difference. It made what had been impossible possible, and made it happen.

So if she’d wanted to speak to that directly, I’d have applauded. Because I’m proud of her for that.

She didn’t have to brag or anything. She could have stuck to her theme of “I didn’t do it; y’all did.” And that’s true, in the sense that our state was ready to be led there. But without someone strenuously pushing it through the Legislature, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’ll close with that video my son did after the first anti-flag rally after the shootings, the one I did the voiceover on. It testifies to a mood sweeping through our state. But I still said, it took what Nikki did to translate that into action…

Dylann Roof found guilty

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… which in a way isn’t news, since it was a foregone conclusion. But it’s a tribute to the fact that we still live under a system of laws and not of men — innocent until proven guilty, etc. — which is reassuring in this post-election world in which so much that our Founders bequeathed us seems threatened.

Of the seven news outlets I just glanced at, five led with it, including both British outlets I looked at:

  1. The State — Dylann Roof found guilty
  2. NPR — Jury Finds Dylann Roof Guilty In S.C. Church Shooting
  3. BBC — Supremacist guilty of US church killings
  4. The Washington Post — Dylann Roof found guilty of all charges in Charleston church massacre
  5. The Guardian — Dylann Roof found guilty in Charleston church shooting

Only The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times led with other things. The Journal, true to its calling went with an item about the dollar hitting new heights, while the Times touted the latest in its series about the Russians tampering with our election.

In other South Carolina news, Steve Benjamin — of all people — had a meeting with Donald Trump. He says he thinks it went well. Sure — that’s what people say just before Trump gives them the Mitt Romney treatment…

CRC honors Jack Van Loan, Nikki Haley

Jack Van Loan in 2006.

Jack Van Loan, flying back-seat in a civilian aircraft in 2006.

Today at our annual luncheon at the convention center, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council (of which I am a board member) honored my good friend Jack Van Loan and our governor, Nikki Haley.

Jack received the Milton Kimpson Award for a lifetime of service to his country and to this community. As you’ll recall, he was an Air Force pilot who was shot down, captured, tortured and held prisoner for several years at the Hanoi Hilton, where he became fast friends with fellow prisoner John McCain. Since moving to Columbia in retirement (he’s originally from Oregon), Col. Van Loan has been a community leader particularly in the Five Points area, and is the guy who built the annual St. Pat’s Day celebration into the huge event it is today.

We honored the governor with the Hyman Rubin Award for her leadership last year after the killings at Emanuel AME in Charleston — for the way she led us in mourning and honoring the dead, and for (in my mind, especially for) doing the unlikely thing and leading us, finally, to take down that flag. Her leadership during last fall’s floods was also mentioned at some of the meetings I attended.Nikki Haley

Now I’m going to tell a tale out of school, and if it significantly bothers a consensus of my fellow board members, I’ll take it down…

Some very good people who are deeply invested in the cause of the CRC contacted board members in recent days to protest our honoring Gov. Haley. In one case, we received a long and thoughtful letter reciting a litany of reasons why, because of her policy and political actions in office, she did not embody the spirit of Hyman Rubin, or of our group.

I can’t speak for the rest of the board, but I can speak for myself on this. My reaction was that the protests were thoughtful and respectful and stated important truths. Most of the items counted against the governor were things that I, too, disagree with her about.

But I strongly believed that we should give the governor the award. (And while I didn’t poll everyone, I haven’t yet spoken with a board member who disagrees with me.) Our group is about community relations, particularly in the sense of fostering better interracial relations, and what the governor did last year did more on that score than I’ve seen from any elected official in recent years. Despite what some believe, she did not have to do what she did. I did not expect her to do it, right up until the miraculous moment when she did. Based on what I have seen over almost 30 years of closely observing S.C. politics, what she did was a complete departure from the norm.

So I was pleased to see her receive the award. She was unable to attend personally, but she sent along a video clip in which she thanked us quite graciously.

Congratulations, governor. And thank you for your leadership…

Clementa Pinckney on the Confederate flag in 2000

Since they had unveiled Clem Pinckney’s portrait in the Senate that day, Joel Lourie got to talking with me about the late senator at his retirement party. Joel asked if I had seen this footage of Pinckney talking about the Confederate flag during the debate in 2000, when he the youngest member of the Senate.

I said I hadn’t, so he sent it to me.

It might give you chills to hear him on the subject, showing so much heart and idealism and love and promise.

He spoke of young people like him not wanting to still be talking about the flag for years to come.

There was no way for him, or any of us, to know that it would take his death, and those of eight others, to get us all to hear him and bring the flag down.

Speaking of youth… Dylan Roof was 6 years old at the time of this speech. I don’t know what I mean by observing that, other than to say we certainly had to talk about the flag for a long time…

The Pinckney portrait, from the Twitter feed of Tara Pettit of WACH-Fox.

The Pinckney portrait, from the Twitter feed of Tara Pettit of WACH-Fox.

The Whig and last summer’s anti-flag rallies

organizers

Jeremy Borden brings to my attention a piece he wrote for a site called The Bitter Southerner. It’s about the role The Whig played in helping get the Confederate flag down.

Basically, the role is this: It was a gathering place — and a fertile one, for those wanting a better South Carolina — for the folks who planned the two anti-flag rallies last summer. That would be Mariangeles Borghini, Emile DeFelice and Tom Hall, pictured above in a photo by Sean Rayford. (And below in a grainy screengrab from video I shot at the first rally.)

That was a natural part to play for a bar located just yards away from the Confederate soldier monument. And this piece was a natural fit for The Bitter Southerner, which apparently has its roots in its creator’s bitterness about Southern bartenders not getting enough respect. No, really.

The piece appealed to me because I appreciate what Mari, Emile and Tom did. And even more because one of the owners and founders of The Whig, Phil Blair, is one of my elder son’s best friends. Remembering his days playing in local punk bands, I marvel at what a pillar-of-the-community successful businessman he’s become. Whenever there’s something going on downtown to advance the community, Phil is there.

It’s a piece with a strong sense of place, and that place is the very heart of our community. You may recall that, just as getting rid of the flag was, for The Whig, about “Neighbors… cleaning up their trashy yard,” Emile saw the banner as bad for his own business, Soda City. As I wrote about Emile in June:

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…

Anyway, you should go read the piece. Excerpts:

In the wake of the murders, Hall and others had gathered mournfully at The Whig that same June week to try to digest the event’s enormity. And to make plans. Hall and two others — Emile DeFelice, Hall’s close friend and fellow South Carolina native, and Mari Borghini, an Argentine immigrant — began to stoke local furor. DeFelice described the trio this way: “Old, rich South Carolina,” he said of Hall. “Old, poor South Carolina,” he said of himself. “And a recent immigrant,” he said of Borghini. “Awesome.”

At The Whig, they planned protests they hoped would pressure the state’s leaders to bring down the flag they viewed as as plague on the statehouse grounds. But their plans had been made with some trepidation.

“Do we go for this now while these people are not even cold dead?” Hall asked. “And we all said yeah. Yeah, I’m grieving I don’t know them; I’ve never been to that church. But that (the Confederate flag) was his (the killer’s) Army, that was his uniform. We’re not waiting and not sitting back.”

As Borghini put it, “Why would they not do something about it?”…

Whig denizens don’t like the word “hipster,” and they’re probably right that the self-righteousness implied doesn’t fit — even if the bar’s detractors detect a whiff of it. The Whig is one of only a few eclectic gathering places in what many complain is Columbia’s often banal college-town existence wrapped in a family and church town’s restrained conservatism.

The bar differs from its stiffer neighbors in more ways than one. The statehouse politics steps away are usually divisive, ugly and superficial. But even many of those bow-tied politicians and operatives sidle up to The Whig’s bar, where the conversation is generally more elevated and congenial….

Phil Blair, the bar’s co-owner who runs it day-to-day, calls it “alcohol philanthropy.” He wants to do more than sling beer and burgers. “I’m from here,” Blair said. “I have that local chip on my shoulder that we’re trying to catch up to other cities around us.”

The Confederate flag on the bar’s front perch was yet another reminder for Blair and others that Columbia hadn’t yet entered the 21st Century.

Those who inhabit The Whig are usually passionate people who rail against the status quo from the sidelines….

rally 2

 

 

 

‘The Nation’ on politics and race in South Carolina

My headline might make you cringe a bit, but the piece isn’t bad. It doesn’t really say anything about us that I haven’t said, or that you don’t already know.

After all, we are the state that seceded first, and some of us would do it again with just a modest amount of encouragement.

It’s tone-deaf in a couple of spots, though. For instance, it equates Strom Thurmond, the segregationist, with Ben Tillman, the advocate of lynching. Most of us can see the gradations of wrongness there rather clearly. And speaking of Thurmond — the writer either doesn’t know or has forgotten that the senator cleaned up his act in the last few decades of his career. In other words, he spent far more years in the Senate NOT being a segregationist than most people spend in the Senate.

That leads to confusion. After noting approvingly that Paul Thurmond says a lot of enlightened things — which he does; he’s a fine young man — the writer observes,

I leave Thurmond’s office wondering whether what I’ve just heard can be real. He seemed like a sincere man, but he, too, was eager to get beyond race. “My generation has not been taught to hate people based on the color of their skin,” the son of South Carolina’s most notorious segregationist told me.

Yet someone taught Dylann Roof and Michael Slager, the cop who shot Walter Scott in the back. The Confederate flag may finally be on its way to a museum, but the attitude of racial arrogance that the flag represented is very far from being a mere artifact. That’s a fundamental truth of our national life—though not one that’s easy to see from Iowa or New Hampshire. Perhaps South Carolina’s role in our politics is to remind us of all those parallel universes—not just Republican and Democratic, or rich and poor, but yes, still black and white—we work so hard to ignore. We always have a choice. We can carry on pretending that it’s still morning in America, that we’re all in this together. Or we can take a good hard look in the mirror.

Yep, Strom was a notorious segregationist, before he wasn’t. (Oh, and do I think it’s because he had some road-to-Damascus transformation, like Tom Turnipseed, the opponent of integration who did a 180 to become possibly the most ardent, sincerest progressive in South Carolina? No. The world changed, and Thurmond adapted. Early in his career, it was helpful to be a segregationist, so he was one. Later it was not, so he wasn’t. But it’s still true that he wasn’t.)

And the fact that Dylann Roof is a racist does in no way demonstrates that Paul Thurmond is lying when he says he wasn’t brought up that way. Possibly, Dylann Roof wasn’t brought up that way, either. I have my doubts about the old saw that children have to be taught to hate. I strongly suspect that people are capable of getting there on their own. Anyway, almost no one Paul Thurmond’s age was brought up that way, although his father certainly was. We live in subtler, politer times.

But there is no doubt that, decades after the Southern Strategy transferred the Solid South from the Democrats to the Republicans, race is always, always on the table. The article gets that right. It just misses some of the nuances…