Flag debate still divides SC

Southern heritage group, NAACP remain at odds

By Jonathan Battaglia
Assistant News Editor

Published: Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A tiny square flag on the front lawn of the State House isn’t just a piece of cloth to people on either side of an issue that now divides South Carolinians.

In 1962, an all-white legislature voted to place the Confederate flag atop the State House dome, but the legislature decided in 2000 to move the flag in front of the Capitol building. It now stands on a 30-foot pole next to a monument honoring fallen Confederate soldiers.

Despite the compromise, the war of words over the proper place for the flag still rages on. Since 2000, the NAACP has repeatedly voiced its opposition to flying the flag, while others have defended the flag as a sign of Southern heritage.

Donald Gordon, the Division Lt. Commander for the South Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, is a supporter of keeping the flag in its current place. For Gordon, the Confederate flag did not have a racial component until the 1960s, when the South was being desegregated.

“The Federal Government did not understand that you could be proud to be a Southerner and not be a racist,” said Gordon, a 1969 USC alumnus. “Prior to that, confederate flags were all over the stands at football games. It had nothing to do with white versus black. It had to do with being proud to be a Southerner.”

But to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the flag does not symbolize Southern pride. In 1999, they organized a national economic boycott against South Carolina’s $14 billion-a-year tourism industry.

Figures from the NAACP claim to have cost the state an estimated $500 million since the boycott was enacted. Last summer, the NCAA’s Atlantic Coast Conference moved one of its annual championship baseball tournaments from Myrtle Beach.

Gordon claims tourism in the state has actually increased since the boycott.

“They’re really discriminating against South Carolina and discriminating against business people,” Gordon said. “Their being offended is actually showing their anti-Southern bigotry.”

NAACP President Ben Jealous, who gave a speech at Columbia’s annual King Day at the Dome Rally last month, called the confederate flag “an act of intimidation and hatred.” Gordon said Jealous should realize that the flag is there to remember fallen Confederate soldiers, which included black and white men.

“The NAACP is not the body that society should look to, they should look to the senators and the house members that put the flag there,” Gordon said. “For every person that’s offended, there’s probably two or three that feel good about where it is.”

U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all said they support removing the flag from State capitol grounds in previous trips to South Carolina. In 2007, USC football coach Steve Spurrier said he believes the flag should be removed as well.

Dominique Grate, USC’s chapter president for the NAACP, says there can’t be any other compromise on the issue other than taking it off the State capitol grounds.

“It is a symbol of heritage, but it’s a heritage of racism and bigotry,” said Grate, a second-year African-American and religious studies student. “It doesn’t belong in front of the seat of power in our state.”

South Carolina is currently the only Southern state with the confederate flag still flying on its capitol’s grounds. Since 2000, any legislation to remove the flag from the State House has been defeated.

“If that banner was good enough for them to fight and die for, then it’s good enough to stand by as a memorial for the dead soldiers that this state calls to arms,” Gordon said. “

[The NAACP] ought to just respect our heritage and therefore earn respect from us. We’ve given them respect, it’s now time for them to step up to the plate and go on and quit making this an issue.”

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