by Paul Olson, President Emeritus
The picture of the woman, Bree Newsome, climbing the flagpole near the Confederate Memorial in Columbia, South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag, moved me. She was arrested for doing what resistance to bigotry demanded. That climb and her subsequent arrest said even more to me about where South Carolina and the nation have been than the “black lives matter” marches or President Obama’s eulogy to the Rev. Pinckney and his powerful singing of “Amazing Grace.” These actions said that individual courage can disrupt consensual symbolism.
The Confederate flag did not stand for the southern way of life, for ‘states’ rights,’ for crinoline and great houses. It stood for hate. Or rather, all of these—way of life, states’ rights rhetoric, crinoline, great houses and Confederate flag—all stood for a pretense of civilized grace covering a white savagery. That savagery lasted for more than 300 years and is still with us. South Carolina’s Confederate 1861 plot against the U.S. began as a treasonable effort to defend the economic rights of slaveholders. Its century-later 1961 re-adoption of the Confederate flag (a gesture of defiance to the Civil Rights movement) defended the economic prerogatives of Southern white elites. A racist rhetoric originating in those elites and circulating in so-called ‘redneck’ circles kept power in the hands of the elites, enjoying their mint juleps and unquestioned economic power. The North now too often emulates the South.Read more