In a historic moment, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Monday for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds.
It was the right thing to do and, to many of us, long overdue.
Whatever arguments have been offered in the past for its prominent placement on government property, the massacre of nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church nullified them. The pro-heritage argument can no longer hold.
I say this as a South Carolinian who joined others in 2000 in calling for the flag’s removal from the capitol dome. I say this today as a human being who, along with millions of others, insists that removal of the flag is the least we can do to honor those killed.
To this end, Haley (R), surrounded by fellow leaders including Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate from the South since Reconstruction, put the South Carolina General Assembly on notice that it will be called upon to remove the flag from where it was transferred 15 years ago. Today it lists upon a flagpole near a Confederate statue on the statehouse grounds but close to the city’s more important intersection and more visible from the street. Removal of the flag requires a two-thirds vote of lawmakers.
The flag issue, which erupts every few years, has always been complicated. It is fair to respect the feelings of people whose forebears fought and died in the Civil War — and this was the argument for allowing it to wave. I myself had family who fought for the Confederacy, as well as other family members who fought for the Union. I have visited their graves deep in the woods of rural Illinois.
I have a rocking chair that my Southern great-great-somebody sat in, according to family lore, as she watched her soldier-husband, minus one leg, hobble across a field toward home. I love that chair for the person who loved her husband who loved his homeland, who fought bravely — and who definitely never owned a slave — and from whom I am descended. For so many poor Southerners — most soldiers weren’t planation owners — the war was about protecting their homes and families from invaders who came to conquer and burn. The reasons for that invasion were noble and no one would argue otherwise. Wars to liberate people from bondage don’t come any nobler. But the story of honoring one’s forebears with the flag is as true for many as is the story of hatred that the flag represents for so many others.
To me personally, the flag was offensive long before a mad-boy of evil heart gunned down nine lovely, innocent people as they included him in their prayers. As I wrote many years ago, I was just as afraid of a pickup truck with a Confederate flag in the window as any African American would be. This is because we all know that the occupants of that truck mean no good by showing that flag. It says: Danger.
The fact that the mere sight of the banner brings pain and humiliation to our African American neighbors is argument enough to bring it down. But last week’s brutal slayings nullified the pro-heritage argument. Forevermore, there’s no disputing its power as a symbol of racial hatred and the sickness of racism we all have a duty to fight with the same ferocity soldiers a century-and-a-half ago mustered to end slavery.
It’s no longer of matter of if but when the flag comes down and finds a home in a museum with other artifacts of historical significance. My hope is that it won’t take a demand from the NAACP but will occur by a consensus of the good people of South Carolina to do the right thing.
The United States and the world saw the coming together of whites and blacks in Charleston this past weekend and marveled that such a thing could happen in the Deep South where, indeed, the first shot of the Civil War was fired.
But the reason so many came together is because enlightened Southerners, black and white — especially in Charleston — have been working on racial understanding and reconciliation for decades. The unity we all observed doesn’t happen overnight but takes work and commitment — and love.
In the final analysis, love requires that the flag come down.