S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0121.shflag.htm


State needs way to deal with Confederate flag
By Andy Brack, Publisher

JAN. 21, 2007 -- In a lot of ways, the Confederate flag is in a more prominent position now on the Statehouse grounds than it was seven years ago when it was atop the Statehouse dome.

Instead of flying 180 feet in the air, it's closer to eye level on Gervais Street in front of the Capitol. And that seems to bother people more and more.

In the last week, two Democratic presidential candidates - - U.S. Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut - - have called for the flag to be moved off Statehouse grounds. Six years ago, Republican presidential contender John McCain got in hot water with members of his party over his call for the flag to be taken off the Statehouse dome.

The NAACP still has an economic boycott of the state, even though it seems to be relatively ineffective. And the NCAA still has a policy it won't play championship games in the state because of the flag, although the organization is set to re-examine the policy in the coming week, according to press reports.

Over the next year, all major presidential candidates will flood into the Palmetto State to try to lure voters into choosing them since both parties have prominent first-in-the-South primaries. For some candidate, South Carolina is likely to be a break-out state as our population more accurately mirrors the rest of the country, compared to lily-white Iowa and New Hampshire.

So it's not a far stretch of the imagination to know that as candidates try to make a name for themselves, one issue will continue to come up over and over: the flag. Some of it will be driven by the media, some by political ambition.

But all of it will portray more negative images to the rest of the nation - - that South Carolina can't get over the Civil War. In a state that is flirting with a major investment from Google, has attracted a world-class aircraft factory recently and has some of the world's top scientists for hydrogen energy research, the specter of the Confederate flag looms. Despite our gains, the flapping flag on the Statehouse grounds will open the state up to jokes, fuel old stereotypes and irritate wounds that remain unhealed.

It's time for this nonsense to stop. Three basic options exist.

First, we can do nothing. If this option is picked, the divisiveness, meanness, politicization and polarization will continue.

Second, state lawmakers, who are the only ones who can make a decision on the issue, could furl the flag and honor it in a museum. That's the best and most prudent approach to showcase that South Carolina is actually part of the 21st century.

Unfortunately, it is almost 100 percent unlikely. When state lawmakers moved the flag to its present location in 2000, they checked the issue off their list and sent it to legislative purgatory. Most lawmakers - Republican and Democratic - kind of figure they've dealt with the issue. In their minds, there's not much advantage to working on it - and that goes double for many Republicans who depend on a right-wing base for electoral support.

So what can be done?

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Perhaps there's a third way to ameliorate media tensions among presidential contenders and halt the expected barrage of negative flag stories. A wise out-of-state politician suggests a major state organization should create a common agenda for candidates to agree upon to diffuse the issue.

Best positioned for such a task is the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, a business-oriented group that knows negative publicity is very bad for business in the state. Here's a suggested statement for the Chamber and/or sister statewide organizations to consider getting presidential candidates of all parties to agree to:

"We urge South Carolina legislators to take another look at the issue of the Confederate flag being on the Statehouse grounds and to develop a new compromise that will respect the traditions of the past but help the state forge ahead into the opportunities of the future."

The flag needs to come off the Statehouse grounds now. But if it can't, at least we can start talking about what's next now.

Andy Brack, publisher of S.C. Statehouse Report, can be reached at brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary

lighter side
Stormy thoughts

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

feedback
1/15: Historian highlights SC's part in Revolutionary War

NOTE: The first two letters are longer than typically allowed, but they are filled with such interesting historical facts that we thought all would enjoy.

To the editor:

Thank you for the column on Palmetto Day. The role of our state in the Revolutionary War and the founding of the nation is, unfortunately, often either misunderstood or ignored. All too frequently today modern histories begin the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord [fair enough]; then on to Bunker Hill and Saratoga and finally to Yorktown. Bam! It's all over. The war in the South is ignored. It was not always the case. Earlier American histories--even those written by New Englanders paid tribute to the contributions and sacrifices of Southern patriots--especially South Carolinians.


The Battle of Sullivan's Island
(Image courtesy S.C. Historical Society)

The war in our state was a vicious, bloody struggle. In 1780, the year that the British invaded and occupied the state, 1,000 Americans in uniform were killed in battle; of these, 660 died in South Carolina. Of the 2,000 American soldiers wounded in battle that year, 1,800 were casualties in the Palmetto State. In the last two years of the fighting, 18 percent of all American patriots killed in the Revolution fell in South Carolina and 31 percent of all Americans wounded during the war were wounded here. Remember that there were twelve other states and the war lasted from 1775 to 1783--yet look at the cost paid in American patriot lives in the Palmetto State.

George Bancroft, a Bostonian and this country's first great historian wrote glowingly about the valor and patriotism of South Carolina's Revolutionary generation:

"Left mainly to her own resources, it was through bloodshed and devastation and the depths of wretchedness that her citizens were to bring her back to her place in the republic by their own heroic courage and self-devotion, having suffered more, dared more, and achieved more than the men of any other state."

That courage, valor, and sacrifice deserves to be recognized. New Englanders in Massachusetts and elsewhere have a holiday honoring the men of Lexington and Concord. Should not we South Carolinians be just as proud of our Revolutionary ancestors--and at the same time celebrate their patriotism with a holiday uniquely our own?

-- Dr. Walter Edgar, USC historian, Columbia, S.C.

1/15: Drayton played key role too

To the editor:

I read with interest your article on the idea of having a "Carolina Day" in place of Confederate Memorial Day on May 10th. I think that is a wonderful idea. However, I must take exception to some of your history. The names you mentioned are certainly noteworthy in Marion, Laurens, Pinckney, Rutledge, Moultrie, Jasper, Sumter and Pickens.

There is, however, one very notable figure you left out. I will tell you that without this name, the rest were just foot soldiers sailing without a rudder when this man is left out of mention in their presence. His name is William Henry Drayton of Charleston S.C. There is a factual book complete with footnotes and documentation written in recent years that can be purchased in the Gift shop at Drayton Hall.

You are correct in your assertion that the Yankees buried over after the civil war a lot of facts about S.C. contribution to the Revolutionary War. I daresay that without William Henry's contribution, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina may well have stayed loyal to the Good King George, and we may not have won our independence. The Indians may well have sided with the King as well, if it had not been for William Henry Drayton. The Palmetto Tree is our symbol because of this man. It is also true that we use fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July because of this man's recommendation to the Continental Congress.

He died young in 1778 from a mysterious illness aboard a ship just off the coast of New England while working for the new country. In fact, the Continental Congress thought so much of this man's work that they erected a bronze statue of him that sits just outside the front of Freedom Hall in Philadelphia, PA. ...

William Henry Drayton was the Continental Congress's go-to guy when they needed to persuade large groups of people to the cause. You can rebel against any tyrannical leader when you feel things are unjust, but you never succeed until you have educated leaders that come to you cause. William Henry was just such a man. He recently was named to the South Carolina Hall of Fame along side Senator Fritz Hollings in Myrtle Beach, SC. I would gladly join any movement to change Confederate Day to Carolina Day. You see, William Henry Drayton was my GGGG Grand Father.

-- Charles E. Drayton Sr., Sumter, S.C.

1/16: Applaud Carolina Day comments

To the editor:

I read your commentary that appeared in Sumter's ITEM on Monday 1-15. As a 'card-carrying' member of the DAR, DAC, Daughters of the War of 1812 and Colonial Dames of the XVII Century, I applaud your comments. I still resent the fact that George Washington no longer has a day set aside for him in February that probably was changed for commercial reasons rather than a knowledge of history.

Regarding the coverage of the Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration:
I do wish Biden and Dodd would go back home and address national issues rather than tell us to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. Talk about a 'do-nothing' Congress...

Thank you for your perspective on the Revolutionary War and heroes.
There is work afoot with the Francis Marion Trail Commission to establish
many of these skirmish sites in the Midlands of SC.

-- Sue A. Pitts, executive director, Sumter County Historical Commission

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Hard times for "hard time"
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

JAN. 19, 2007 -- Flash forward two decades, and it looks like truth-in-stentencing's tide is ebbing, at least in the S.C. Senate, where its president pro tempore, Sen. Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) last year put together a task force to take a fresh look at how, and perhaps even for how long, nonviolent offenders are sentenced in drug-related crimes in South Carolina.

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