Two years ago I wrote an article here on RaisinEmReal called, “What I Didn’t Learn About Black History in 28 Days” that focused on little known African American history in the United States. What I learned while writing the article has come to be vital information during this time in which we are seeing racial divisions erupt across the country, and in a potentially critical situation in the Southeastern United States of America.
I currently reside in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina about an hour north of Charleston. June 17, 2015 as I finished cleaning up after my son’s birthday party the news broke of a multiple shooting in Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston (News Staff, 2015). My heart sank knowing that my family is rooted in the AME church and I followed closely to learn more. By the next morning, the murders of nine people inside the church had been declared a hate crime and now my heart was shattered.
I was born in North Carolina, but raised mostly in South Carolina. I lived many years in the same city as the now infamous Dylann Roof. I attended the same high school, frequented many of the local hot spots and even served as an Emergency Medical Technician for the county of Lexington. To say that this incident hit home for me is an understatement. Unable to understand what I have lived with all my life, a shocked Nation descended upon South Carolina forcing its law makers to answer questions about how it is that 50 plus years after the civil rights movement are we still seeing instances of this type of hate. And they didn’t have to look any further than our State House where the Confederate flag still flies proudly in all her glory.
The Twitterverse lit up within 24 hours of the breaking news with the hashtag #TakeItDown as every, and any news outlet was speaking on it. While I have a strong opinion about the South Carolina Confederate flag issue, I had underestimated for 15 years just how passive I had become about the issue. As I read the news and skimmed through the social media comments I began to see a trend of misinformation. On one side, people were supporting a flag in which they had no idea of its true history of while on the other side people couldn’t fathom how the citizens of South Carolina had put up with such blatant racism for so long. News about the flag to the rest of the world seemed so incomprehensible that most public attention was dropped and dismissed as pure stupidity. But it’s not stupidity. It’s very real and racism in the south is still very much alive.
For the first few days after the Charleston shooting it felt as if South Carolina had been plunged straight back into the 1960’s. The familiar feel of black oppression had returned even though people of all colors were coming together to support the victims of this tragedy. There was sense of deep embarrassment in the government for the actions of Dylann Roof. And then a manifesto allegedly written by Roof surfaced, and an ugly truth spilled out about the hatred of black people in certain circles around the south. The Sons of The Confederates quickly separated themselves from Roof however, the Ku Klux Klan came out of the woodwork insisting that Dylann Roof had the right idea, he just shot the wrong people. Robert Jones, the group’s grand dragon told reporters,
“He (Roof) was heading in the right direction; wrong target. He should have actually aimed at the African-American gang-bangers, the ones who are selling the drugs to white youth, the ones who are robbing and raping every chance they get (Shain, 2015) (BURSEY, 2015).”
So What’s All The Fuss About?
It seems pretty cut and dry when you try and assess what both sides want. Some of the arguments on the side of the flag supporters:
- It’s their heritage
- It does not support racism
- Black people fly it too
- It’s a symbol of Southern Pride
- It’s history, not hate
While on the surface, they sound like legitimate arguments, somehow the rest of the world isn’t buying it. It seems that those who oppose the flag have done their homework and have come up with deeply legitimate claims that practically cancel out an argument supporting the flag:
- The flag was initially raised to support segregation
- It’s history makes it offensive
- It’s commonly used as a symbol by hate groups
- It represents the idea that not all men were created equal
- The Confederate South lost the war and will never rise again.
But after hearing the opposing side who could still fight to keep this hate relic around? You would think only racist people right? Not right. There’s a system of misinformation being passed along to people that have been raised believing the flag is a part of history. And it is a part of history, however for most flag supporters it’s a deeply engraved distorted history. A history so distorted that when anyone challenges it, that very challenge elicits a Pavlovian response that automatically incites an aggressive and violent emotional verbal response. So basically when confronted by factual data flag supporters and segregationists shutdown at their core deductive reasoning level leaving a primal and antisocial automation.
Since the end of slavery and probably for some time before that, white people in the south have had an unreasonable fear of black people. They fear them being uncivil, raping their kinfolk, killing them, and stealing from them. The fear grew so strong that even years after slavery when black people were a docile non-threat of the working community, myths about catching diseases from them arose which fed into segregation that much more. But after the Brown vs The Board of Education decision, and the start of the civil rights movement. All of that began to change.
A Brief History of How We Got Here
The decision to fly the Confederate flag was birthed in 1959 when SC Governor Fritz Hollings appointed a centennial committee to plan the state’s observance of the 100th anniversary of the War Between the States (BURSEY, 2015). Dr. Daniel Hollis, a well-respected South Carolina historian was appointed to the committee and was the last surviving members of the committee to give an accurate account of what happened on the day the flag was raised. By his account, the flag actually went up in 1961 prior to the bill that proposed it being passed (BURSEY, 2015). The Centennial Commission meetings, that should have been a national participation event, however spelled out some of the true feelings being hoisted with the Confederate flag. The commission meetings were a National event to be hosted by South Carolina, but several black delegates coming from all over the country to participate in the meetings went against the South Carolina norms of segregations. There was an immediate uproar over it by the NAACP and President Kennedy even had to intervene by issuing, “an executive order moving the centennial meetings to the Charleston Navy Base, one of the few integrated facilities in town (BURSEY, 2015).” South Carolina still protested by removing themselves from the National meeting and holding their own meetings in a Charleston segregated hotel.
Many speculate that the decision to pass the bill keeping the flag up was a blatant response by the Dixiecrats to sow their support of segregation. And then Dixiecrat Senator Strom Thurmond’s speech at the Centennial opening ceremony in a ball room adorned with Confederate flags, supports that speculation. Thurmond went on record that evening telling a whites-only crowd that nowhere in the U.S. Constitution “does it hint a purpose to insure equality of man or things (BURSEY, 2015).”
No matter how we look at it, as innocent as raising the flag may have seemed it was wrong. Even Hollis was against it, but says that he didn’t argue in fear of upsetting the powers. So the flag went up without a resolution date of coming down and remained there for 38 years before Boycotts and a protest of more than 46,000 people on the State House lawn forced law makers to rethink their staunch stand on keeping atop of the State House (WILKINSON, 2015).
Technically you can say that protest was a success. South Carolina law makers brought the flag down from the State House. In an Amendment vote to the original bill, the Confederate flag was removed from the top of the State House in July of 2000…
And moved directly in front of the State House to a Confederate Soldier memorial where it has been for the last 15 years.
And still the argument remained that the flag is not a symbol of racism, even though history thoroughly proves otherwise.
As you can see the flag that flies at the South Carolina State House is the Confederate Virginia Battle Flag. Still a Confederate flag none the less and still supportive of the cornerstone Confederate VP Andrew Stephens spoke of when he said,
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
Where Are We Now?
Now that the Nation is calling for an end to a 54 year old controversy, law makers are scrambling to make a decision that is obviously not going to please both sides of the issue. We are hoping that as law makers they do the job they’ve been elected to perform and make a decision based upon the founding principles of this country and not its founding practices. Will removing the flag end racism? Never. That is a mentality that only proves to cloud the original demand of removing the flag. Psychology tells us that once a person has adopted a set of beliefs, they typically hold on to those beliefs for life. When these beliefs are passed on to our children, the cycle continues.
People think that flag opposers are asking society to rid itself of the Confederate flag altogether erasing history, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. People who are asking for the flag removal today are doing so because they feel that a symbol created to support inequality among men has no place existing on the grounds where are trusting people to make laws of equality.
(Credit: All photos courtesy of The State News Paper in Columbia S.C.)
BURSEY, B. (2015, June 29). The Day The Flag Went UP. Retrieved from SCPRONET: http://www.scpronet.com/point/9909/p04.html
News Staff. (2015, June 17). Nine shot, multiple fatalities reported in downtown church shooting. The Post And Courier , p. 2015.
Shain, A. (2015, June 29). KKK Plans to Hold Rally. The State Newspaper, pp. http://www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/the-buzz/article25756306.html.
WILKINSON, J. (2015, June 23). Confederate heritage groups are low-key on flag debate. The State Newspaper, p. http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article25367458.html.