Many believed that a new day had dawned in South Carolina when the Confederate flag was finally removed from the Statehouse grounds this past July. But to people with a critical eye, something seemed off about the entire proceeding. The ceremony to lower the Confederate flag carried with it an implicit respect of that very flag, one which it was not due as a symbol of slavery and oppression. Sadly, thanks to a new state law that respect continues to this day.
Before the flag came down, there were questions about what would happen to it once it was no longer flying at the Statehouse. Apparently, the idea that the flag might simply be quietly stored away and forgotten was an impossibility. Slightly less likely was the notion that the Confederate flag would be displayed in a manner that fully admitted the true heritage of South Carolina and the Deep South.
Instead, the Confederate flag will not be left to collect dust in the State’s Relic Room (a more appropriate name could not be thought of by the most gifted satirist). Already, there is a group forming that will decide how best to display the flag that will honor the flag and those who fought under it. As such, our state will continue to support the legend and mythology of the Lost Cause.
Last week, The State newspaper reported that six of nine people had been appointed to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum Commission to study how to display the Confederate flag. Hugh Leatherman, current Senate President Pro Tempore, told the Columbia daily he believes additional state funding for the Relic Room will be considered for this display. Apparently in the New South, the Confederate flag may no longer fly, but the General Assembly is fine with throwing money at a memorial in its honor, all while refusing to expand social programs like Medicaid.
Most troubling perhaps, two of the nine members of this group must be recommended by Confederate heritage groups, one being the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the other being the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The State doesn’t mention how many must be approved by the descendants of slaves, but if you look at the law governing this new body, you’ll quickly find out the answer is none.
For all of Gov. Nikki Haley’s talk of a New South in the last few weeks, there isn’t one. This is just another example of Southern heritage running amok without regard to history, decency, or anyone’s feelings aside from those of the privileged class. If you have any doubt about the winners and losers of the Civil War, you can lay them aside now. No other conflict I can think of has afforded the losing side so much latitude in deciding how it would go about its business after the end of the war. Sure, the federal government may have imposed Reconstruction on the South for a dozen years, but they pulled out before the job was complete, allowing the old guard to start over.
So Nikki Haley can talk about “progress” and other leaders can talk about the patience it takes to make change happen, but I have to wonder how much longer the people of South Carolina, the Deep South, and the United States will have to wait. The Civil War ended 150 years ago, the Civil Rights Act is 50 years old, and yet Walter Scott was murdered this year. And nine people lost their lives in a church two months later. Since then, other African-American churches have been shot at or vandalized.
This is not the New South, Gov. Haley. This is the Old South. And as long as we continue to memorialize the Confederate flag without an honest explanation of what it stood for and how people continue to profit off of what was built with slave labor, it will never be anything other than the Old South.
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