Category Archives: Confederate flag

Cindi’s good idea for Greenwood monument could be applied in a lot of areas

Cindi Scoppe had a good column about the absurd problem that the town of Greenwood faces. The town decided some time back that it wanted to revise the lists of dead from the world wars on local monuments so that they were no longer separated into “white” and “colored.”

But the Legislature’s execrable Heritage Act, which was passed years ago for the now-irrelevant purpose of protecting the unlamented Confederate flag on the State House grounds, forbids the town from doing so. Which is absurd and wrong on several levels.

And unfortunately, Speaker Jay Lucas’ Shermanesque statement that while he is speaker, no more exceptions will be made to the Act, period, means there’s no hope for what the town wants to do. (I can appreciate Lucas’ pragmatic desire, once the good work of lowering the flag was done, to get onto other issues without distractions, but this is a particularly unfortunate effect of his declaration.)

Anyway, I like Cindi’s solution:

We should all hope that once cooler heads prevail, the speaker will walk back his Shermanesque statement, and the Legislature will give the American Legion and the city of Greenwood control over their own property — and give all local governments and private entities control over their property as well, for that matter.

If that doesn’t happen, there’s a better solution than a lawsuit: The folks in Greenwood should take up a collection for a new sign, to erect next to the monument, that says: “These lists of Americans who gave their lives for our nation remain segregated in the 21st century because the S.C. General Assembly either opposes integration or refuses to let local governments make their own decisions or both.”

That idea could be applied in a lot of situations where the Legislative State ties the hands of local governments. For instance, signs could be posted at Richland County polling places saying, “You are waiting in such long lines because the Legislature, in its ‘wisdom,’ gives control of the voting process to the local legislative delegation.”

Given the many ways the Legislature reaches down to meddle in local affairs, the possibilities for applying this idea are practically endless…

 

Lee Bright draws primary challenger

The shenanigans of state Sen. Lee Bright have attracted a primary challenger for next year:

Greer businessman David McCraw is challenging state Sen. Lee Bright for the Republican nomination next year for Senate District 12, pointing to Bright’s support of the Confederate flag and his failure to back a GOP roads plan.McCraw

McCraw, 48, said “while our roads were crumbling,” Bright worked on legislation for an independent currency and supported the flag when most senators voted to remove it from the Statehouse grounds.

“Lee Bright has done an awful lot of talking, but very little doing,” McCraw said. “This month the General Assembly concluded their work for the year with very little to show for it. Partisan bickering and an attitude of self-promotion and political grandstanding instead of cooperation means that we still do not have a plan to improve our roads; it means that you will not see any decrease in your tax bills this year; and it means another year will go by without any real ethics reform. We deserve better from our elected officials. That is why I am running for Senate.”…

Interestingly, the Spartanburg paper’s report on this development didn’t mention the flag a single time. Which was odd. But it did mention another of Bright’s more notorious stands:

“It really shocked me when (Bright) suggested an independent currency for South Carolina,” McCraw said. “It’s one of the most ridiculous ideas I’ve ever heard. We are a global economy.”

Yep, that one was a doozy, too…

 

It WILL take more than goodwill, Will. But goodwill is a prerequisite

There are those who refuse to participate in celebrating the spirit of unity over bringing down the Confederate flag. One of those, unfortunately, is my former colleague Will Moredock:

It will take more than goodwill to heal this state

After the Flag

by

“To use Gov. Nikki Haley’s words, it truly is a great day in South Carolina” — that was the text message that awakened me at 7:15 Thursday morning from my cell phone by the bedside. It was followed immediately by other messages from friends near and far who wanted to check in and see what I had to say about the end of the Confederate flag debate and — let us hope — the end of an era.

In the days after the lowering of the Confederate flag in front of the Statehouse in Columbia, much will be written and said about the courage of Gov. Haley and the Republican General Assembly in taking that measure, to which I say, “Bullshit!”

Why did it take the killing of nine good people by a Confederate flag-waving bigot at Emanuel AME Church to open the eyes of these GOPers to what millions of South Carolinians and Americans have known for generations?…

Yes, it will take more than goodwill for our state to progress.

But the thing is, goodwill is a necessary ingredient.

And celebrating when people who have long disagreed with you decide to agree — rather than kicking them — is kind of an obvious first step.

Linking the flag and Atticus Finch

Samuel Tenenbaum — who goes to Publix each morning to by The New York Times because they refuse to deliver it in Lexington County, where he and I live — brought to my attention this piece from that paper, which notes the parallels between the Confederate flag we just got off our lawn and Atticus Finch:

FOR as long as many Americans have been alive, the Confederate flag stood watch at the South Carolina capitol, and Atticus Finch, moral guardian-father-redeemer, was arguably the most beloved hero in American literature.

The two symbols took their places in our culture within months of each other. The flag was hoisted above the capitol dome in April 1961, on the centennial of the Civil War during upheavals over civil rights. Atticus Finch debuted in July 1960 in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a novel that British librarians would later declare the one book, even before the Bible, that everyone should read. Given life by Gregory Peck in the 1962 Oscar-winning film, Atticus Finch would go on to be named the top movie hero of the 20th century.

Nearly at once, both icons have fallen from grace in ways that were unimaginable just months ago…

I just pass it on in case you’re interested. I’m not crazy about the way it ends up — suggesting that we should embrace this “new” Atticus as a way of coming more truly to grips with who we are and have been. I’m of the “Atticus is still a hero” school. But I pass it on nonetheless…

Speaker’s statement on other State House monuments

My attention is not focused on Tillman's statue at this time.

My attention is not focused on Tillman’s statue at this time.

I meant to post this yesterday when it came in, before it was in the paper:

Speaker Lucas Statement on Debate Over Public Monuments and Buildings

(Columbia, SC) – Today, House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement to reiterate his position surrounding future debate over public monuments and memorials.  In light of the recent tragedy, several South Carolina universities and colleges have formally asked or suggested the General Assembly address changes or exceptions to the South Carolina Heritage Act.  This law, which passed in 2000, protects all monuments, historical markers, street names, and buildings named for historical figures or events.

“The South Carolina House of Representatives will not engage in or debate the specifics of public monuments, memorials, state buildings, road names or any other historical markers. The General Assembly, the House in particular, made it abundantly clear during the debate of the confederate flag that the only issue they were willing to discuss was the placement of the battle flag on the north lawn of the State House. We reached a swift resolution last week and in doing so put an end to this discussion. Debate over this issue will not be expanded or entertained throughout the remainder of my time as Speaker.”

I’m satisfied with that, and I fully understand that the speaker, who just did yeoman’s work on getting the flag down, would be uninterested in any more battles over stuff on the State House grounds.

Before I move on, however, just to get certain points on the record, I wish to make these observations:

  • I have never promised NOT to advocate to remove other items from the State House grounds. What I have said (or at least what I thought) was that the Confederate flag that flew there until a week ago was in its own, special category, qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from anything else on the grounds in terms of its political significance. And that is why I have concerned myself with that and only that with regard to the grounds.
  • If I were ever to advocate to remove or amend (as Todd Rutherford suggests) anything on the grounds, it would be the Ben Tillman statue. My longtime newspaper was founded to fight the Tillman machine, and its first editor was murdered by one of its capos. My own ancestors, who actually lived next door to Tillman in Washington, took a very dim view of him. And my ancestors and newspaper were right: He may be the nastiest piece of work ever to wield political power in his state. Which puts him, rather like the flag, in a special category of his own.
  • I have NO interest in fighting such a battle at this time. I’m enjoying the reconciliation and togetherness that bringing down the flag has engendered in our state, and I intend to bask in it for the foreseeable future. I have NEVER been guilty of the kinds of intentions that neoConfederates ascribed to flag opponents — some sort of Orwellian desire to remove all reminders of the Confederate past. I’ve never been even slightly interested in that, and I would not want in any way to give them a reason to think their “slippery slope” argument was even vaguely justified. And even though Tillman is a separate issue from the Confederacy, I’m not interested in addressing him for now. And probably not for the rest of Lucas’ tenure as speaker, although I’m always open to a good argument.

Walid Hakim sticks to his guns

Just another one of those guys Obama spoke of, clinging to his guns.

Just another one of those guys Obama spoke of, clinging to his guns.

We last saw Walid Hakim suing the state — successfully — for throwing him and his fellow Occupy Columbia off the State House grounds.

As the best-known unleader of that movement, Walid looked and acted the part — Central Casting might have sent him over to play a part in a flick about the Days of Rage, or perhaps one of the lesser-known of the Chicago Seven.

Now, he’s suing the city of Columbia for trying to pry his gun from his warm, live hands.

So… the city is concerned about a bunch of redneck yahoos bringing guns to the city center in a tense moment, and the guy who sues is… Walid?

He just refuses to be typecast, doesn’t he?

He could be on his way to another victory in court, although I do have a question about one of his assertions:

As a lawful concealed weapons permit holder, he won’t be able to protect himself when he is near the State House if danger arises, his affidavit said.

“Unless prohibited by a valid law, I always carry at least one firearm on my person or in my car,” Hakim said. “I had planned to be near the State House for various lawful activities. Based on the ‘emergency ordinance,’ I am forced to change my plans.”…

Walid doesn’t go near the State House unless he’s packing? Really? His assertion seems to go beyond the feared danger of this Saturday — except that he says he doesn’t carry when “prohibited by a valid law,” which would mean he wasn’t armed while on the State House grounds.

Interesting.

Walid in the role we usually think of.

Walid in the role we usually think of.

Is the best response to racist rallies just to ignore them?

Hey, I was there to cover the Nazis.

Hey, I was there to cover the Nazis.

Today, Cindi is urging us all to stay away from the State House during the demonstrations by the KKK and the New Black Panther Party:

We recognize that many good and sincere South Carolinians feel a need to demonstrate to the world that such people are not welcome in South Carolina. But there is no need to do that; these are already marginalized groups. No one believes we want them here, or that they represent us. They’re coming to South Carolina because they hope to take advantage of all the national attention on our flag debate to steal a little of the spotlight for themselves.

There’s nothing we can do to stop hate groups from staging rallies at our State House; the Constitution gives even the most odious people and groups the right to hold peaceful protests in such public places. But we can do something even better. We can stop them from accomplishing anything they hope to accomplish — by simply ignoring them….

Do y’all think that’s best? I don’t know, now that the flag’s down.

Over the years, I’ve made a particular effort to show up for anything flag-related at the State House — pro or anti. I was there in 2007 the see the neoNazis. I felt it was important to document, and to comment on, the kinds of visitors that flag attracted to our state’s front lawn.

But now… there is no flag. So what’s the point? Two out-of-state hate groups want to converge on each other in the center of our town. If we can’t keep them from doing so, should we at least just stay away until they’re done? They seem so… irrelevant now.

I don’t know. Now I know that working (that is to say, paid) news people will have to be there. They really have no choice. When something this awful is happening in public in your town, you don’t get to ignore it, any more than if the State House were on fire. You have to report it. Or at the very least, be on hand in case there is violence.

As for me, well — I can certainly think of better ways to spend my Saturday.

Anyway… thoughts?

 

Did shoestring annexation bring down the Confederate flag?

Y'all, I'm sorry I was unable to find a map that shows how crazy the jurisdiction lines are in this area. Anyone know where I can find something like that online?

Y’all, I’m sorry I was unable to find a map that shows how crazy the jurisdiction lines are in this area. Anyone know where I can find something like that online?

Or, far more horrifically and directly, did Columbia’s shoestring annexation lead to the murders of the Emanuel 9?

This is Kathryn Fenner’s assertion, which she sketched out in an email:

Roof was arrested at Columbiana, by Columbia Police, in Columbia, but in Lexington County. When he went to buy a gun at Shooter’s Choice, the background check was done by calling Lexington County, who sent the checker to the police–the checker called the West Columbia Police, who had no record, instead of Columbia–because unless you are a wonk like me, you might not realize that Columbiana is in the city limits–shoestring annexation, just like Woodcreek Farms where the Mayor lives.
If Roof had not been able to buy the gun….

You’ve read about all the confusion over the jurisdiction in which Dylann Roof was charged. And you’ve probably been confused yourself passing in and out of jurisdictions in the Columbiana/Harbison area.

At least some of this confusion was caused by the shoestring annexation of Columbiana in 1989, as a way of grabbing those expected tax revenues.

Hence the connection that Kathryn has drawn.

To see ourselves as others see us can be… disconcerting

I was kind of puzzled by a piece in The Washington Post over the weekend describing the ceremony Friday taking down the flag. An excerpt:

The elaborate ceremony Friday to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse threatened to overshadow the very act of removing a symbol that had caused so much tension and testimony over the state of race relations in recent weeks.

The color guard, the phalanx of elected officials, and the cheering — and sometimes jeering — crowd of spectators all made the event feel at turns like both a state funeral and a pep rally. Neither seemed an entirely appropriate tone for the occasion, given the horrifying circumstances that led South Carolina lawmakers to finally retire the banner that, in spite of controversy, had defiantly held an official place of honor for more than 50 years.

Huh? The nature of the event felt perfect to me: A combination of the pomp that is sort of reflexive to Southerners and the bubbling, giddy joy at something many of us thought would never, ever happen.

Since I’m a South Carolinian, and I knew how I felt on the issue, and how lots of my fellow citizens felt, the event felt just right to me.

So I decided, as I read, that the problem was that Vanessa Williams must not be from around here. That seemed confirmed by this passage:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has been widely praised for leading the charge to take down the flag, even after she balked at doing so last year…

Say what? “Even after she balked last year?” Even after? That’s inside-out thinking. She was widely and happily congratulated because she hadn’t been for it before. And I’m not picking on Nikki in saying that; I am currently running for president of her fan club! No, she was never for it (as opposed to merely “balking” on one occasion) because she was a South Carolina Republican.

Which made her normal. The only South Carolina Republican I had ever heard express an interest, even halfheartedly, in getting the flag moved was Ted Pitts, years before he was the governor’s chief of staff, and he walked it back really, really quickly once the backlash hit him.

Not having been for bringing the flag down before doesn’t say anything about Nikki Haley as an individual, but the fact that she got out front on it this time very much counts to her credit — and to the credit of the great majority of Republicans who rose up and decided to do the right thing, without amendments, qualifications, ifs, ands or buts.

That’s the news here, folks. Republicans not being interested in getting the flag down has always been a dog-bites-man thing. This astounding conversion is man-bites-dog. It’s an amazing thing. And Jenny Horne’s raging speech was an amazing thing, and wonderful. This is not the kind of thing that happens to us every week.

So you bet the governor is being widely praised, and she deserves it. As do all of those Republicans who responded to her call to get this done. And if you don’t think they’re going to pay a price for it back home, and therefore don’t realize that they can use all the encouragement we can give them, then you haven’t read the comments on this Meet the Press item yesterday.

It worries me when people write about stuff, and they don’t get what’s going on, on a fundamental level…

And now, even the flagpole is gone

hole where the pole was

At breakfast this morning, I thought I’d give myself a treat and look down at the naked flagpole where the Confederate flag once flew, so I leaned over, looked… and the pole itself was gone.

I just saw a couple of trucks, and a messy spot that looked at a distance like a hole filled with broken chunks of concrete.

We’ve all grown used to the South Carolina that had a fetish for resisting change, or only allowing it in slow increments. But here in the New South Carolina, when we decide a thing needs doing, and it’s long overdue, we just flat go ahead and do it.

I’m enjoying this new place.

Then and now: King Day at the Dome, 2000

King Day at the Dome, 2000 -- the largest demonstration against the flag ever

King Day at the Dome, 2000 — the largest demonstration against the flag ever

Cynthia Hardy, remembering the long road we’ve traveled getting to the point, at long last, of removing the flag, shared this photo on Facebook.

The flag as it flew then.

The flag as it flew then.

It’s from King Day at the Dome, 2000 — the day that a crowd estimated by some at 60,000 gathered before the State House to call for the flag to come off the dome, where it had been since the early ’60s.

As you know, it did come off the dome that year, only to move to the grounds in a more visible spot, in a ceremony as ugly and acrimonious as the one yesterday was beautiful and joyous.

If you’ve never seen this photo, or haven’t in awhile, you’re probably as stunned as I am each time I see it again. Never before or since, in my experience, has there been a crowd half as huge as this for any purpose.

This was back when Cynthia was on the staff of the Columbia Urban League, which did much of the work of organizing the demonstration. I was on the Urban League’s board at the time.

It was a long struggle, with both high and low points. This was one of the high ones, even though it was followed by years of frustration.

Ending, eventually, in triumph. The photo below is from yesterday…

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Scenes from a triumphant moment for South Carolina

Not much to say at the moment, because I’ve got to run to a meeting. I’ll say more later. In the meantime, some images from the big moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God. Good for them. Good for us all. Finally. Finally.

By Tim Dominick/The State -- I hope they don't mind my using it.

By Tim Dominick/The State — I hope they don’t mind my using it.

UPDATE: The governor will sign the bill today at 4 p.m. I understand that the flag will come down Friday morning at 10.

Let us celebrate:

The Confederate flag will leave the South Carolina State House grounds after five decades this week after the House overwhelmingly approved a bill to remove the Civil War icon early Thursday morning.

The House voted 94-20 to banish the flag from the Capitol after more than 12 hours of debate over the historic measure.

The bill now heads to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature. Haley started the call for removing the flag in the days after nine African-Americans were shot and killed in a historic Charleston church last month.

“It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state,” Haley said in a Facebook post.

If Haley signs the bill Thursday, the flag could be taken down Friday….

Asking South Carolina style, bless her heart

IMG_3157 (2)

I love this.

My friend Justin Young, whom I see most mornings at the club at breakfast — he’s the one guy who shows up even later than I do — showed me something pretty awesome this morning.

As you know if you’ve been to the State House grounds during all this, the moveon.org placards that say, “#TAKE DOWN THE FLAG” are pretty ubiquitous.

And yesterday, apparently, they had boxes of them that said, “571,000+ DEMAND TAKE DOWN THE FLAG.” I guess they thought the others weren’t insistent enough.

Well, I’m not going to get into my thoughts about moveon.org’s involvement in all this, but you know that I’m really only interested in what South Carolinians think about it, particularly those 124 in the House who are deciding as we speak.

Which is why I love the one humble, hand-drawn sign held by the lady in the straw hat that expresses the same thing in more of a South Carolina style:

PLEASE TAKE DOWN THE FLAG.

Please. Bless her heart. She does us all credit.

I’ll bet if the governor saw her, she’d be proud of her (“Be kinder than necessary.”) . I know I am.

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

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

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

This is a dangerous moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And no sane person wants that.

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

Fun to be on the page with Robert (and Cindi) again

better page

“They’re back and they’re bad!”

“When they get together, Trouble comes a-runnin’!”

“Confederate Agenda II: Just when you thought it was safe to read the paper again…”

I’m thinking taglines for a cheesy sequel buddy action flick after seeing the page today in The State with Robert Ariail paired with me once again — my column with his cartoon. A lot of friends have commented on that — favorably. Although when Mike Fitts said it was “Just like old times,” Neil White, being himself, responded that “they were celebrating Throwback Tuesday over there.”

“It’s Throwback Tuesday. Don’t turn that page!”

Anyway, it’s great to be back with Robert in print today, even though it’s only today. And to be back with Cindi Scoppe, of course. I’ve been working with her off and on since the weekend, strategizing about what I was going to write and the best time to run it, then working together through the editing process. And I was aware that she was writing two editorials that would run with my piece — this one congratulating the Senate, and this one exhorting the House to follow the Senate’s example — whereas Robert’s cartoon was more of a nice surprise.

Now that was even more like old times. I haven’t even seen my buddy Robert this week, but working on this with Cindi was a very pleasant return to the alternative universe where everything is as it should be.

I even called her to ask for a PDF of the page today, to have a souvenir of the occasion (nowadays, things don’t seem real without a digital version). An inferior JPG image is above. Click on it, and you get the PDF.

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My column on the flag in The State today

ConfedFlagPressConference5x3.1

Tim Dominick/The State

A New South Carolina

We have come so far. We are so close. Let’s get it done.

That’s the litany I’ve been reciting this past week, as the previously unthinkable quietly became a matter of fact — at least in the S.C. Senate. To paraphrase a T.S. Eliot quote that Sen. Tom Davis cited after the Senate vote: This is the way the Confederacy ends; not with a bang but a whimper.

We now live in a new South Carolina. No, the flag’s not down yet, but the South Carolina I’ve known all my life is gone. In that late, unlamented version, that anticlimactic 36-3 vote in the Senate would have been impossible. And yet in this new world, it was so … matter of fact. Poetry aside, there wasn’t even a whimper.

How did we get here? Well, I wasn’t around for the start. But while some scoff at the ostensible reason for putting the flag up there — to mark the centennial of The War — I find it credible. I was in the second grade in New Jersey when the centennial observances began. Navy blue kepis — the hats we identify with the Civil War — were very popular among the kids who mocked my South Carolina accent. I searched everywhere and found a gray one. I wore it to school, daring the other boys to try to knock it off.

Innocent enough. But the centennial ended in 1965, and the flag stayed up. We know why. By that time, the civil rights movement was winning important national victories.

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

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

My own involvement with the flag started in February 1994, about six weeks after I joined The State’s editorial board. I hadn’t planned to write about it. But my colleague Lee Bandy had asked then-Gov. Carroll Campbell about the flag. The governor had dismissed the issue as beneath his notice. He was too busy with the “big picture” to fuss about with such “temporal emotions of the moment.”

Carroll Campbell did a lot of fine things as governor, but on that day he really ticked me off. So I ripped out a short editorial — just 349 words — that said if the governor was serious about national ambitions (and he was), he needed an attitude adjustment. The “emotions” to which he referred arose “from a failure to resolve the central crisis of our history. That failure arises from many causes, but one of them is a lack of leadership. The rest of the nation can be expected to have little patience with a man who seeks to lead it into the 21st century, but can’t make a gesture to lay a 19th century conflict to rest.”

From that moment, I couldn’t leave the issue alone. I berated a series of governors, and Legislatures, on this failure of leadership. And what result did I, or anyone else calling for the flag to go, get? A hardening of attitudes. The Republican Party rose to power in the General Assembly after putting a mock flag “referendum” on its 1994 primary ballot, after which legislators moved to enshrine the flying of the flag into law.

The anti-flag movement grew, and reached its zenith in 2000, with a 60,000-strong demonstration on Martin Luther King Day, and a dramatic march from Charleston to Columbia led by Mayor Joe Riley. And still, what did we get? A “compromise” that moved the flag to a more visible location. After which the Legislature made it clear for 15 years that it had zero interest in revisiting the issue.

But that all happened in the old South Carolina, which ceased to exist not the night that Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight of his flock were murdered in cold blood. It ended two days later, when the families of the slain forgave the young man charged with taking their loved ones away.

The new South Carolina was born in that moment, in that courtroom. Hatred and death didn’t bring it into being. The love of the living did.

A chain reaction of grace started there, and its radiance shone forth from Charleston. The nation marveled: Why were they not seeing another Ferguson, another Baltimore? How can this black-white lovefest be?

A series of governors had, to varying degrees, brushed off the flag. (Although both David Beasley and Jim Hodges sought compromises.) And now here was one saying, without any mention of compromises, “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.” Period. God bless Nikki Haley for actively stepping out to lead this new South Carolina, a state that would be ashamed to engage in the games of the past — a state that couldn’t look at those victims’ families and respond any other way. A state that had grown up.

Standing behind her on that miraculous day, three days after the arraignment, was a cross-section of our political leadership — black and white, Democratic and Republican. The chairmen of the two parties, whose rivalry was defined by the division that flag represented, literally stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

Things like this don’t happen in South Carolina. Or rather, they didn’t happen in the old South Carolina.

Anything can happen now. Anything. Thank God. Now, on to the House.

Mr. Warthen is the former editorial page editor of The State and now director of communications and public relations at ADCO, a Columbia marketing agency. He blogs at bradwarthen.com.

The first 350 words I wrote on the Confederate flag

black and white flags

OK, it’s technically only 349, which is amazingly terse, considering the thousands — probably hundreds of thousands — of words I would eventually write on the subject.

I make a reference to this piece in my column in Wednesday’s editions of The State. I thought I’d share the whole thing with you.

It was February 1994. I had only been on The State‘s editorial board for six weeks. One morning, I read in our paper where my friend and colleague Lee Bandy had asked then-Gov. Carroll Campbell about the Confederate flag that then flew over the State House, and saw how dismissive the governor had been of the issue.

Which I found to be outrageous.

So I quickly ripped out this very short editorial — what we called a backup, as opposed to a lede — and got it into the paper ASAP. (Actually, The State has the first backup that I’ve seen in awhile on the page with my column.)

I hadn’t thought all that carefully about the flag up to that point. The fact that it should come down seemed obvious to me. But in reading this you can see I had not yet developed the themes that would be central to my writing about the flag later. You’ll see that I emphasize South Carolina’s image to outsiders, which has not been an important theme to me since then. I mainly did that because it was believed that Campbell harbored presidential or vice-presidential ambitions, so I seized on that to at least give him reason to think harder about the issue.

Here is the editorial:

CAMPBELL SHOULD SHOW VISION ON FLAG ISSUE
State, The (Columbia, SC) – Wednesday, February 16, 1994

THE ever-careful Carroll Campbell is taking an interesting gamble by not taking a stand on flying the Confederate battle flag atop the State House.

As Governor Campbell cautiously nurtures ambitions for the national stage, this issue could prove to be his Rubicon. If he crosses it, he risks alienating a chunk of South Carolina voters. But crossing it could be a way of gaining the national credibility necessary to his ambitions.

Increasingly, the flag is a human relations irritant even as we confine our gaze inward. And it is a problem for Southerners each time we reach out to the world. This happened with Georgia as it looked toward the Olympics, and Alabama as it worked to lure Mercedes-Benz.

As Mr. Campbell gazes outward, he should see that he ought to issue a call to bring the flag down, and he must do it now. He will have no standing to address it next year, when he will be asked why he avoided the issue as governor.

To say, as Mr. Campbell does, that the flag has to do with little more than “temporal emotions of the moment” is absurd. These emotions arise in turn from a failure to resolve the central crisis of our history. That failure arises from many causes, but one of them is a lack of leadership. The rest of the nation can be expected to have little patience with a man who seeks to lead it into the 21st century, but can’t make a gesture to lay a 19th century conflict to rest.

We’re not saying it would be easy. We’re saying that the effort would be worthwhile, particularly if the flag is placed in an appropriate historical display. The Governor has gained a considerable store of political capital in the past seven years; this would be a good way to invest some of it.

By having the guts to deal with this problem constructively, he will have shown himself worthy of the national stage. And he will have done an enduring service to his home state.

Anyway, that was the start of my 21 years of writing on the subject. And soon, maybe, maybe I’ll be done.

Raw video of the Confederate flag being raised in 2000

“Raw” in more ways than one.

Bill Castronuovo, also a former editor at The State, shared with me this video that he shot on July 1, 2000, the day that the Confederate flag atop the dome was lowered, and the new one raised behind the soldier monument on the State House grounds.

As you can see, it was not the most dignified of occasions. A lot of rebel yells: Including, oddly enough, when the one on the dome came down. Was that flag opponents cheering, paradoxically, in a Confederate fashion, or the neoConfederates cheering because they knew another one was about to go up, in a more visible location? Or maybe they liked seeing the American and state flags lowered with it. I don’t know, and there’s no way to tell.

Anyway, I think that anyone in the House who wants to replace the current flag with another one in this location, or to fly this flag at the museum, should watch this and contemplate it — and ask, “Do I really want another 15 years of this?”

There’s only one way to put this all behind us: Pass the Senate bill as is. And let’s move on.

video still from 2000