The mayor of Columbia, S.C., the capitol of the state that led the rest of the Confederacy off the cliff of secession in December 1860, has a letter in the local paper in which he pleads with racist conservatives who still run the state to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds:
The presence of the Confederate flag in front of the State House … is an obstacle to economic development, and in particular to South Carolina’s and Columbia’s efforts to enter the knowledge economy. The flag creates an unnecessary, negative image of South Carolina to the world.
My experience is that outside of South Carolina, the flag creates a controversial and uncertain image of South Carolina that ties current state policy of flying the flag on the State House grounds to our history of racial segregation and intolerance. This negative image exists even though I readily accept the fact that most of the advocates for the flag do not intend to convey that message. Unfortunately, in today’s world of the Internet and national and international media, the Confederate flag, fairly or not, has become a symbol of intolerance.
The mayor, Bob Coble, is courageous for speaking out. He risks having a cross or two burned in his yard, at the very least. He could also be facing the end of his political career and, at worst, risking the safety of himself and his family.
He’s right about the battle flag. To the rest of the world, it has become a symbol of racial hatred on par with the Nazi swastika. As such, the flag at the South Carolina statehouse is one of the most lurid examples, since it was first raised in the Civil Rights era as a middle-finger salute to the United States Dept. of Justice, African-Americans, Yankees and anyone else who opposed Jim Crow.
There are still Southerners who cling to the delusion that the Confederate flag is symbol of the valiant cause of Southern independence. Whatever it once was, from the moment the North claimed victory, the Confederate flag became the symbol of a lost cause — and rightly so.
As long as the Confederate flag flies at its state house, South Carolina deserves its reputation as a backwater, with rankings in education, health care and productivity among the lowest in the country. And every multinational company that moves facilities there should be tarred with the same brush — especially including the German automaker BMW that saw no problem with a swastika, er, Confederate flag flying in the capitol when it opened a plant in Greenville.
As my colleague Trish often points out, stupidity about race is by no means a Southern trait. In Michigan, the Rapid City Businessmen’s Association flew a special KKK branded Confederate flag at its family picnic over the weekend:
The flag included a cross inside a circle, accompanied by the phrases “white power” and “Ku Klux Klan,” but its message didn’t bother everyone who attended.
“I didn’t care one way or another about the flag being up. It’s not a big deal,” said Tom Tucker, of Rapid City, a cookout volunteer…
Event organizer Stuart McKinnon, owner of Torch Plumbing in Rapid City, said the Klan flag was not meant to be there, but he knows who raised it. He refused to identify the owner.
“I’m not going to say because it doesn’t matter who did it,” McKinnon said… “He just wasn’t thinking,” he said. ‘People can fly what they want to.’”
Kalkaska County Commissioner Rob Crambell, of Rapid City, attended the event and saw the flag, but didn’t stop to read it. He thought it simply was a Confederate flag and didn’t mind because he “doesn’t have a problem with people voicing their opinions in this country,” he said.
“You see them everywhere, so no, I wasn’t (offended). I don’t think all those flags mean racism. If they did, you wouldn’t see them on NASCAR cars and all over the place. Do they question it when they see it on NASCAR or anywhere else? This is America, after all, and people can fly what they want to. It’s unfortunate that it was more than just a Confederate flag,” Crambell said…
Organizers said if anyone had complained, they would have removed the flag…
Organizers [said] the event was neither a Klan rally, nor a recruiting effort and nobody there belongs to the KKK, they said.
“I’m Catholic, so how can I be a Ku Klux Klan member? They’d hang me,” McKinnon said…
The Klan flag won’t fly over the next Rapid City cookout, [organizers] said.
“The businesses and people who participate in putting these events together apologize for offending anyone,” [said one].
“But for anyone to assume we were having some kind of Klan meeting is absolutely ridiculous.”
Sorry, but when you fly a Klan flag over your event, that makes it a Klan meeting.
Finally, my family is 100 percent Southern on both sides, and I have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.