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Wednesday
Jun242015

Why It's Time to Remove the Confederate Flag

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

"The best time to plant a tree is 20 year ago. The second best time is now."
-  Chinese Proverb


This proverb is at least 1,000 years old, but could easily be paraphrased as a perfect prescription for the situation the state of South Carolina is currently facing.

The best time to take the Confederate Battle Flag off the State House grounds in Columbia was 50 years ago. The second best time is now.

With only a single House member of the Anderson County Legislative Delegation even willing to open debate on the subject, which represents five of the 10 votes against discussion, Anderson County is being painted nationally as the area with most backward, ill-informed and reactionary elected state officials in the Palmetto State.

Exactly 103 other members in the General Assembly agreed with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to get the Confederate flag off from the State House Grounds in the wake of the recent murders at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church. The alleged killer is an avowed racist who has stated he wanted to start a race war in the state. Boy, did he pick the wrong state for that twisted goal.

Much has already been said of the amazing Christian grace and racial unity and support in a city already reeling from the killing on an unarmed African American man with no violent history or record, by a white police officer during a routine traffic stop. The kindling was already lit when the church slayings shocked Charleston, the rest of the state and the world. But unlike Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and New York where other incidents involving the deaths in African American communities erupted into riots, looting and other violence, what happened in Charleston was something few expected.

At the arraignment of the suspect who gunned down nine people in the church after spending an hour in bible study with them, the families of those nine victims offered Christian forgiveness. In the week since, unity marches, not riots, have marked the event. Prayer meetings, not looting, have been the rule of the day. And even outside groups which traveled to Charleston seeking to fan the flames of hate, were drowned out by singing.

It reflects what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said was a part of his dream:

“We are coming to see now, the psychiatrists are saying to us, that many of the strange things that happen in the sub-conscience, many of the inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. And so they are saying, "Love or perish." But Jesus told us this a long time ago. And I can still hear that voice crying through the vista of time, saying, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." And there is still a voice saying to every potential Peter, "Put up your sword." History is replete with the bleached bones of nations, history is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command. And isn’t it marvelous to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against an unjust system, fight it with all of your might, never accept it, and yet not stoop to violence and hatred in the process? This is what we have.”

Haley understands the core teaching of this call, and does not want South Carolina to be “cluttered with the wreckage of communities” that failed to follow Jesus’ command. The leadership in the African American community in this state, the families who lost loved ones in the church shooting, and countless others across the state recognize the clear hand of love, the olive branch of peace being extended as a demonstration of how to properly stand up to a unjust system to bring lasting change.

Most seem to clearly recognize these gestures and are responding in kind, with the type of love Jesus talked about when he said the only command greater than loving God is to love your neighbor.

If you lived in a community where you understood your neighbor worked swing shifts, you might remember to tone down your noise in the daylight hours when you knew they were sleeping. Or if you knew your neighbor was a widow, whose husband died serving this country during World War II in the Pacific, is is unlikely you would fly the flag of the Japanese Imperial Navy in your front yard, out of respect.

The Confederate Battle Flag is both offensive and threatening to many in the African American community, and with good reason. While the flag is nothing more than a dyed piece of cloth on a stick, what it represents is determined by how it is used. Some argue that is not fair, but fairness is not at issue in this debate. The truth is the Ku Klux Klan, and according to one report, 500 other extremist groups use the flag as at least one of their symbols. While certainly most who fly that flag do not agree with what these groups stand for, it does not change the fact that there is an association with hatred and bigotry connected to that particular emblem.

Some have tried to argue the flag is a symbol of heritage, not hate, and for a few people that could be true. But few of those are among the groups targeted by those who have chosen the symbol as a weapon of warning and ignorance. As a Southerner whose family roots in South Carolina go back at least seven generations, it is clear many of my people fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. But that war ended 150 years ago, and when it did the Confederate flags in Columbia came down. It was only during the centennial celebration it was added to the capitol dome, which conveniently coincided with the state’s fierce opposition to the legal requirements of Brown vs. the Board of Education which said that “separate but equal” schools were not to be allowed in America.

The flag was clearly intended, not just in South Carolina but across the South and in many other parts of the country, as a signal of opposition to the racial integration of schools and a general opposition to the civil rights movement calling for an end to excluding minorities from voting and being allowed in “whites only” businesses and transportation interests.

Many today have never forgotten than between the turn of the last century and 1968, more than 3,400 African Americas were lynched in this country and most of those were in the South. South Carolina had 156, Georgia 492, Mississippi 539, Tennessee 204, Lousiana 335, Alabama 299, Texas 352, Arkansas 226, Florida 257 and Kentucky 142. Those numbers represent a lot of families who have not forgotten the terror of those times, the KKK was already using the Confederate battle flag as their flag before 1900.

So as those have been wronged offer forgiveness, why is it that these members of the Anderson County Delegation House members - Craig A. Gagnon, District 11, Michael W. "Mike" Gambrell, District 7, Jonathan D. Hill, District 8, Anne J. Thayer, District 9 and W. Brian White, District 6 - voted against the idea of of even debating the issue.
It is a wildly overused phrase, but one which still holds meaning on this issue: these representatives are on the wrong side of history.

South Carolina today is the U.S. headquarters of BMW, Michelin (and soon Volvo) and is home to hundreds of other international businesses. It is foolhardy to think the current controversy is lost on the leaders of these industries. We are a state which had a long way to come, but one where we have made great progress, and now is the time to demonstrate our commitment to moving ahead.

In a state where nearly a third of our citizens are African American - only four states have a slightly higher percentage - and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is one of one three African Americans in the U.S. Senate, clearly we are ready to move forward.

The flying of the Confederate flag in South Carolina is one controversy we finally have the vision to put to rest.

Let’s hope the General Assembly demonstrates the leadership and wisdom to make it happen.

Contact the Anderson County Delegation here to tell them you expect them to be a part of this historic move, and remind them the primary season for 2016 elections is closer than they might think.

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