Category Archives: Confederate flag

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…

Did you read my comments in the NYT?

Over the weekend, the NYT finally ran that piece by Richard Fausset, in which he quoted me on the subject of the Confederate flag.

Some people are nationally recognized experts on quantum physics. Others are sought after for what they have to say about macroeconomics. Me, I’m seen as a boffin on South Carolina’s cheesy, nylon, fake Confederate flag.

Hey, it’s something. And if anybody’s got an idea on how to monetize this, my super-power, I’m listening.

Anyway, here’s my bit in the story:

The museum is also full of Confederate battle flags that were used by South Carolinians during the war — unlike the flag that was removed from the State House. That makes the whole issue of honoring the State House flag in the museum particularly absurd to critics like Brad Warthen, a former editorial page editor at The State in Columbia, who now blogs about South Carolina politics.

Mr. Warthen has noted that legislators, years ago, mandated that the flag be made of nylon, rather than cotton, to keep the colors from fading. He ridiculed this as ahistorical and “cheesy.” (One of his old columns began with altered lyrics to the song “Dixie”: “Oh, I wish I was in the land of nylon.”)

Like many here, Mr. Warthen believes that spending millions to display the flag makes little sense in a state that is struggling to find funds for road and infrastructure repairs (much needed after catastrophic flooding in October), educational initiatives and changes to a scandal-plagued Department of Social Services.

“Our state’s spending needs are legion,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter how you feel about the flag. It’s a ridiculous waste of resources.”…

I tweeted about this Sunday morning, and Phillip Bush responded:

Yeah, it’s pretty cool. This may be my first time in that august publication. I’ve been in the WSJ once or twice, but not, as I recall, in the Gray Lady. It’s nice to be quoted in a paper where they call you “mister.”

But think about it: Donald Trump is in there every day. So, you know…

Oh, yeah? Trying cutting it by $5.3 million

The last time I saw the flag in question. I'd be happiest if it remained the last time.

The last time I saw the flag in question. I’d be happiest if it remained the last time.

Don’t know whether you saw this story this morning:

The Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum Commission on Tuesday lowered to $3.6 million a proposal for displaying the Confederate battle flag that was removed from the State House grounds in July.

The new proposal is about $1.7 million less than what a consultant proposed earlier this month. The new plan also reduces projected annual operating funds to $234,000 from the consultant’s proposed $416,000.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the plan, which includes opening a new wing at the Relic Room, which is located in the same renovated textile mill as the S.C. State Museum. The proposal also includes an electronic presentation of the names of all 24,000 South Carolina Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War and the conservation and display of period Confederate battle flags now in storage. The war began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor and was fought from 1861 to 1865….

Folks, it’s still an outrage until you get down to something under $100. Actually, spending anything on displaying this inauthentic nylon knockoff is an outrage, especially at a museum containing genuine military artifacts.

Harrell replacement: Use private money to display flag

If you’re counting up the ways that Bobby Harrell’s departure from the House was a blessing to South Carolina, add this…

Mary Tinkler, the young Democrat who won his seat by default when Harrell had to withdraw from the 2014 election, is stepping up to avoid the obscenity of state taxpayers paying an exorbitant amount to display the fake nylon flag removed from the State House:

Representative Mary Tinkler to Prefile Bill Creating Commission to Fund Confederate Flag Display with Private Dollars

Tinkler bill would prevent taxpayers from funding proposed Confederate Flag Display

Charleston, SC – State Representative Mary Tinkler (D-Charleston) announced Wednesday that she will prefile legislation creating a nine-person commission to raise private funds for and oversee the maintenance of the display of the confederate battle flag that was removed from the statehouse grounds in July.

Last week, the museum commission approved a costly, $5.3-million design incorporating the display of the confederate battle flag in an expanded Confederate Relic Room in Columbia.  As proposed by consultants, the display features eight-foot-tall panels with millions of small LED lights and requires significant security enhancements for the flag, which was removed after the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Rep. Mary Tinkler

Rep. Mary Tinkler

“When the flag was removed from the statehouse grounds, we overwhelmingly agreed that it should be displayed in an appropriate manner,” said Tinker.  “But this proposal is irresponsible and not in the best interest of South Carolina’s taxpayers.  We have thousands of flood victims in this state who still haven’t seen relief, roads that are literally crumbling, and schools that continue to fail.  Their needs should take priority.”

Tinkler says she plans to prefile legislation on Thursday that would limit public funding for the confederate battle flag but protect the planned display in perpetuity.

“Taxpayers should not be required to fund such an extravagant project when we have so many needs that aren’t being adequately addressed,” said Tinkler. “However, we can still honor the history of the confederacy with a flag display at the Confederate Relic Room.  My bill is a free-market compromise that allows for an appropriate display, funded by private donations.”

Tinkler’s proposal tasks the legislature with appointing a commission, made up of lay people, to create and direct a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to raise the necessary funds for an appropriate confederate flag display. The Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore would each have four (4) appointments, while the Governor would have one.  The commission would also be in charge of raising the funds to maintain the display and support necessary personnel and security.

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Good for her. But I’d go a step further: Even if every penny comes from private sources (which would be a challenge, since the proposal involves an annual cost of $416,000 in perpetuity — or until the rent goes even higher), this display should not be erected within the context of a museum under the purview of the state.

Even if the money drops from the sky, devoting that kind of space and energy to this tawdry token instead of to the real military relics at the museum would be obscene.

$5.3 million for Confederate flag? An outrage on every level

flagproposal

Artist’s conception of the shrine to a nylon fake. Another reason to oppose the proposal: Apparently, people who view it turn into shadows of themselves…

Sorry not to have gotten to this one sooner.

It’s been proposed — not by any elected official, thank God, but by a private consultant — that $5.3 million be spent to display the fake Confederate flag that flew on the north lawn of the State House until the wonderful moment back in the summer when we removed it.

Let’s examine a few of the ways in which this is an appalling, outrageous idea:

  • The waste of money. Our state has so many unmet, actual needs. On that basis alone, this would be a sinful waste. We have many millions worth of infrastructure needs after October’s floods. This amount would at least allow us to fix a dam or a bridge or two. The State reported today that it would cost $55 million to fix 32 structurally deficient bridges damaged in the flooding. So rather than waste the money on this flag absurdity, we could fix three bridges. Meanwhile, DSS needs $32 million to hire 157 more people to protect children. With $5.3 million, we could hire 26 of them. And so forth, all through the litany of real needs in South Carolina.
  • This flag in no way represents the men who served in the Confederate army. It is a cheesy fake made of nylon. NYLON! It never went into battle with a soldier in the service of any cause, good or bad. No Confederate soldier ever even beheld such a thing — their flags were made of heavy cotton. An authentic flag that flew on the State House grounds was replaced with this tacky fake at the behest of then-Sen. Glenn McConnell, who wanted a flag that didn’t fade in the sun and rain — and which, incidentally, would flap in the breeze much more readily than an authentic one, being lighter. So basically, what this flag represents is the reprehensible motivation that one portion of our state’s population had to rub its dominance into the faces of another portion of our state’s population. As I wrote in The State back during the summer: It was “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.”
  • The lion’s share of the cost of this proposal would be to expand the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum by a third, onto the second story of the building in which it is situated. So… we’d be saying that this nylon, fake battle flag is worth a third of all of the real sacrifices made by real soldiers throughout our history, starting with the Revolutionary War. How gross can you get?
  • The $5.3 million price tag apparently doesn’t even include the $416,000 in rent that would have to be paid each year for the new, additional space.

I could go on, but I’ll end my litany there, and let y’all add any other outrages that occur to you.Patrick Henry Bradley

I’ll close with a personal anecdote and a proposal. It relates to one of my great-great-grandfathers, Patrick Henry Bradley, for which the tiny community of Bradley, S.C., is named.

In family lore he is known as “General Bradley,” because he was elected to that rank (brigadier, I think) in the South Carolina Militia. But in the Civil War, he served as a captain. And he obtained that rank by raising his own company from the countryside around his home.

He left behind his unit’s battle flag, which eventually came into the possession of my grandmother, his granddaughter. Long ago, she donated the flag to the Relic Room. Much later, in the 1980s, she went to the Relic Room hoping to view it. It wasn’t on display, which is not surprising — the museum has lots of relics that are in storage. That wasn’t the bad part, although it did disappoint my grandmother.

The bad part was that they couldn’t find the flag.

Museum director Allen Roberson — a good guy I happen to know from Rotary, whom I do not blame for this travesty unless I see evidence to the contrary — said that part of this ridiculous addition would be devoted to some authentic “garrison flags that have never been seen.” Who knows? Maybe my ancestor’s is among them.

Here’s my proposal: Take one of those flags and put it into a nice, plain wooden display case with a glass front, and find a corner of the existing museum space to place it in. Budget no more than $100 for this project, and I’ll raise the money from private sources.

Then you can take that embarrassing nylon thing, which is already conveniently folded up in a tight triangle, and put it where my ancestor’s real flag was.

Any heritage advocate who has a problem with that is lying about what motivates him.

But wait — the reports I’m seeing say that the bill that removed the flag required that it be “displayed.” OK, fine — put that in the $100 box, if there’s no way around the provision.

And then, let’s move on.