If South Carolina removes the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol, the nine people who were slaughtered in a Charleston, South Carolina, church last week won’t be resurrected and there can be no guarantee that such a heinous act in the name of bigotry will not happen again.
But removing that flag is still the right thing to do — and it appears that momentum is at last building in that direction. As the Rev. Garland Pierce said on page A1 of Friday’s edition, it is likely the “Charleston Nine” will be remembered as martyrs whose death propelled South Carolina out of the past and into a more progressive future. We find it remarkable that it took a mass murder to get lawmakers to release their grip on a symbol of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow that should have been long relegated to a museum.
We aren’t keen on politically correct efforts to rewrite history, and find disappointing what we see too often these days — movements to punish long-dead historical figures who might have been on the wrong side of the issue of slavery even if they blended in nicely during their time. We always caution against using today’s mores to judge the actions of a person from yesteryear. It is a dangerous road, one that would find no end.
The Confederate flag’s place on the grounds of the state Capitol is different. Its connection with slavery should be obvious, but lesser known is that it didn’t fly above the South Carolina Capitol until 1962 — 97 years after the end of this country’s deadliest war — and rose then only as that state’s protest to a civil rights movement that was beginning to gain traction nationally. So its place above the Capitol was an act of defiance against an effort to extend to blacks in this country equal opportunity; after protests, it was moved from above the state Capitol, but remained on the grounds, adjacent to a war monument for the state’s Confederate soldiers.
We are aware of the affinity so many white Southerners have for that flag. But it’s important that they understand that others see it differently, none more so than blacks, whose ancestors wore the chains and did the work at the receiving end of a whip. History cannot be recast — or even bent sufficiently to uncouple the Confederate flag and slavery, which was and always will be what shattered the Union for those 1,458 dark days.
There is work to be done on this front elsewhere, certainly with Mississippi’s flag. And who would have guessed that Alabama’s governor would immediately order that the flag be removed from that state’s Capitol grounds? It’s telling that in those two states, as well as in Arkansas, Jan. 19 — known nationally as Martin Luther King Jr. Day — is celebrated widely as Robert E. Lee Day. On that day, as well as on May 10, Confederate Memorial Day, the Confederacy’s first flag is raised above the North Carolina Capitol building. There have been occasional protests, but nothing with the intensity of what has occurred in South Carolina. Look for that to change.
We were pleased to see Gov. Pat McCrory call for an end to the Confederate flag option on North Carolina license plates. Several retailers, including Walmart and Amazon, have announced that they will no longer sell items emblazoned with the Confederate flag.
So the snowball is growing, but it cannot be allowed to crush indiscriminately. We anticipate efforts to bury memorials in the South that honor the soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy, such as the one at our county’s courthouse, and these efforts must be beaten back.
To be clear, we don’t blame the Confederate flag for the atrocity that occurred at the Charleston church anymore than we blame the ease with which guns can be found in this country. We blame the weak-minded individual, Dylann Roof, who was spoon fed Confederate-flag-wrapped hatred that is so easily found, especially in the garbage can that the Internet too often provides.
The double-edged First Amendment guarantees that presence can’t be legislated away, but the signature of a pen can remove South Carolina as a co-conspirator.
Three out of 10 people who live in South Carolina are black. The flying of the Confederate flag over the state Capitol is a blue, white and red reminder that this country once considered their ancestors — and them by extension — no more than chattel.
There is a place for the Confederate flag, and that is in a museum, where it can pay proper tribute to the nearly 300,000 soldiers — about 20,000 of them South Carolinians — who died for a cause that they deeply believed in. There the flag, like those soldiers, can be left alone to reside in peace.