Like cats and dogs, Batman and the Joker, Britney and Kevin, the NAACP and the SCV are at it again. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Sons of Confederate Veterans seem determined to turn this state into a battleground in their ongoing war over the Confederate flag.
This struggle has been going on for decades with no end in sight. It flared up in 1999-2000, leading to a compromise which removed the flag from the Statehouse dome and placed it on the Statehouse grounds. In the process, South Carolina’s tourism industry was hurt, and we became a national laughingstock. It was a painful experience for this little state which takes itself so seriously.
Now it seems we might be in for another round of the flag flap, because the S.C. branch of the NAACP has called for widening the national boycott against the state until the flag is removed from the Statehouse grounds. The SCV and other heritage groups have said, “No way!”
I’ve got some suggestions to perhaps save all of us from enduring this madness again.
The issue with the Confederate flag is that it is flown in a sovereign public place when it does not represent the history of all South Carolinians. True enough. But two weeks ago, as I was out at Cummings Point on Morris Island to observe the 150th anniversary of the assault on Battery Wagner, it occurred to me that we were standing on public soil. The black reenactors of the famed Massachusetts 54th did not represent all the people of S.C., yet there they were, with National Park Service staff, celebrating the invasion of this state by black federal troops.
There was no quibbling over sovereignty or appropriateness. Nor do I think SCV members begrudged black people the right to celebrate their heritage on public land. And for that matter, everything from MLK Day and Juneteenth parades to the African American Heritage Monument on the Statehouse grounds use public space to celebrate black heritage. Perhaps it’s time to let the sovereignty issue drop, because that blade cuts both ways.
Need I add that there are things other than the Confederate flag keeping “colored people” from advancing? Crime. Drugs. Broken homes. Fatherless children. School dropouts. Enough said.
For their part, the white heritage groups need to rehabilitate their flag. They are in denial about its history when they say that it is not a symbol of hate. A photographic record of the civil rights movement offers hundreds of images of Klansmen and other gap-toothed, slack-jawed bigots waving Confederate flags to stake their turf and torment black activists. The Confederate flag can still be seen whenever two or more skinheads or Neo-Nazis assemble.
What are the heritage-not-hate groups willing to do to take their flag back from these Neanderthals? Can they mount the same righteous rage that they have aimed at the NAACP to tell the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis to leave their flag alone? Or is their rage reserved for blacks only? This would be a good test of the sincerity of heritage groups. If the SCV and the NAACP could find a way to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on this issue, they could shame the hate groups into silence, once and for all. But would either side be willing to try?
Another issue that galls many of us is the historical revisionism of heritage groups in denying that the Civil War was fought over slavery. The claim is too preposterous to be taken seriously by any informed person, yet the heritage people repeat it with straight faces and Bibles in hand.
I’m not asking for an apology from these folks, just a little honesty. This was not the only arrogant or ill-advised war Americans ever fought. And with one or two exceptions, America has never apologized for a damned thing. I wouldn’t ask southern heritage groups to do otherwise. I’m only asking them to acknowledge that southern whites, out of different motivations, fought this terrible war to preserve the institution of slavery.
To understand the nature of the flag fray, it is necessary to understand that the NAACP and the SCV are more than civil rights or heritage groups. They are political organizations with membership rolls and treasuries that must be filled. They need conflict to survive. They need conflict to define themselves. They need each other. One is the yin to the other’s yang. If they did not have the flag controversy, they would have to invent another.
I think I speak for many South Carolinians when I say that I am tired. I am hoarse from shouting about the Confederate flag. I am ready for both sides to shut up, sit down, and act like adults. So who will be first?