Tags: charleston south carolina, confederate flag, heritage, racism
Guest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III
Now that the confederate battle flag has been successfully removed from the South Carolina State House can we get back to the real work of healing our fractured, fragmented and frayed nation?
Although South Carolina’s senate easily cleared the 2/3 majority with a 37-3 vote in favor of removing the flag, the House of Representatives took a different course of action. Wednesday’s debate, lasting over 12 hours, included some interesting filibustering tactics by Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) who is opposed to removing the flag. Ultimately, with a 94-20 vote the Representatives passed the senate’s bill and with the stroke of her pen, Governor Nikki Haley, who until recently staunchly opposed the removal of the flag, removed the flag.
The removal of the flag and the tangential debate over heritage vs. hate is not a culminating sign of victory, in fact, thinking such is a greater insult than the flag’s presence as a representation of all South Carolinians for the past 54 years. The presence of the flag remains a clear reminder of South Carolinian lawmaker’s objection to national civil rights legislation during the 1960s; legislation that not all South Carolinians opposed. The major issue with the presence of the Confederate Battle Flag at the State House is the flag’s past as a representation of racist ideologies.
The initial incarnation of the flag, nicknamed “stars and bars,” was first flown in 1861 and was redesigned a number of times in subsequent years. The current battle flag was actually made popular during Governor Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign. Under the short-lived political party, States’ Rights Democratic Party (also known as the Dixiecrats) Thurmond ran on a platform that was pro-segregation, anti-miscegenation and focused on protecting “the southern way of life.” Campaigners and campaign related events donned the confederate battle flag as one of their representative emblems.
The battle flag was initially raised over the State House in 1961 to commemorate the inaugural battle of the civil war at Fort Sumter. Thirty nine years later, as a result of the Heritage Act, the flag was moved to a separate flagpole next to a memorial in honor of fallen Confederate soldiers leaving South Carolina’s state flag and “Old Glory,” the flag of the United States of America, flying above the State House dome.
Over the years there have been numerous campaigns, initiatives and attempts to have the flag removed from the State House grounds. It is unfortunate that it took the death of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight prayer warriors of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to stimulate a local conversation with national impact. Let it be known that their death did not bring about a race war, but a recommitment to the pledge that we all know so well. A pledge to an indivisible nation, one with the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”
Now that the flag is down, can we get back to the real work of engaging in sustained conversations on race, race relations and racial reconciliation? If that is too much to ask let us return to the unfinished work of the founding patriarchs, to provide equal access to “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The removal of the flag is not the victory; it is the icebreaker.
Emmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor, professor and weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.