Few salute South Carolina’s Confederate compromise

2000 decision to move flag from State House dome angers many, but lawmakers aren’t ready to revisit issue.
By John O’Connor
joconnor@thestate.com
Tuesday, Jul. 13, 2010

COLUMBIA A decade after striking the compromise that removed the Confederate battle flag from the State House dome, S.C. political leaders said they have no interest in revisiting the debate despite lingering objections.

Ten years ago – on July 1, 2000 – the flag was moved from the dome and installed next to a Civil War soldier monument in a plaza on the north side of the State House. The flag has long been a flashpoint in state politics, dividing those who see it as a symbol of South Carolina history and culture from those who view it as a symbol of a slave-owning, racist past.

Some Confederate-flag supporters and Southern-heritage groups think the flag should never have been removed, and have called on the S.C. Legislature to let state residents vote on where the flag is flown. The decision to allow the flag to remain flying on State House grounds sparked the NAACP to call for a state tourism boycott. It has been in effect for a decade.

The flag question becomes a political pitfall every four years for Republican and Democratic presidential candidates during the state’s key early primaries. Anger about the flag was also a factor in former Gov. David Beasley’s re-election loss in 1998, after the Republican proposed removing the flag from the dome.

But many of the lawmakers who brokered the compromise think it has served the state well, preventing the flag debate from re-igniting while other issues were ignored.

"The mainstream of South Carolina on all sides has embraced it," said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, a strong supporter of preserving the state’s Civil War history. Allowing the debate to resurface again and again "would not have been good for the long-term health of the state."

Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter and chairman of the S.C. Black Caucus, said compromise, by definition, will leave some people unhappy.

Though lawmakers have introduced bills nearly every year that would remove the flag, Weeks said the debate seldom gets any further because of more pressing issues.

"They want the flag removed," Weeks said of voters he has spoken with. "But the flag is a much lesser concern than trying to get people back to work."

Still, J.T. McLawhorn, who heads the Columbia Urban League, said the flag is an economic issue for the state.

Companies are choosing to locate elsewhere because of the flag, he says, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association has a ban on most post-season sporting events here to comply with the boycott. The compromise, he said, has not been in residents’ best interests, noting that a compromise once counted slaves as three-fifths of a U.S. citizen.

"This compromise has not enhanced the quality of life of South Carolina," he said. "The flag has impeded economic and social well-being."

Flag backers aren’t happy either, saying the compromise has sold out the state’s past. The S.C. Conservative Action Council held a State House rally on June 26, asking the Legislature to let S.C. voters choose where the flag flies.

"They need to get it through their heads that many millions of modern Southerners are still proud, un-brainwashed, Reconstruction-proof and absolutely unbending in their heritage defense," the group wrote on its blog.

Weeks agreed that some would never accept the compromise, but said a decade of hindsight supports the 2000 decision. "It was the best way of handling things under the circumstances," Weeks said. "I don’t think that will ever be resolved."

On The Web:   http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/07/13/1559409/10-years-later-the-flag-flies.html