Robert Ford’s Parting Shot on Confederate Flag Boycott

Former S.C. State Sen. Robert Ford sent the following letter to media Sunday with the message "Leaders of this great state…Don’t forget." Most of the piece was originally penned in December 2011.
Posted by Jonathan Allen (Editor), July 22, 2013

Enclosed is a summary of three very important issues in the history of South Carolina that relates to every segment of South Carolina’s population. The issues enumerated here are the Confederate Flag, The NAACP Boycott and the perspective new millennium Economic Opportunity that will benefit thousands of South Carolinians of all ethnicities and gender; of which I am proud to say I played a pivotal role.  My decision not to support the boycott along with other prominent Civil Rights activist proved beneficial for our state.  Illustrating how significant it is to make a decision and stand by that decision individually or collectively; the “right” decision in most cases is not popular. 

This time of the year, many of us pause to give homage to the greatest public servant to ever walk the face of the earth.  As a public servant for the state of South Carolina,  I cannot help but be reminded of the Psalmist David who wrote at Ecclesiastes 7:1, “a good name is better than good oil and the day of one’s death than the day of one’s being born.”  As the greatest public servant to ever live, one of the things that Jesus Christ did to make a good name for himself was to provide opportunities for the downtrodden and the poor. Although, I consider myself to be Christ-like and a public servant and my birthday happens to fall on December 26, I certainly am not comparing myself to Jesus Christ.  Yet, the apostle Peter admonished at 1 Peter 2:21 that Christ Jesus left us a “model to follow his steps closely.”

Unfortunately, as I have endeavored throughout my career, to focus my civic duty on providing opportunities for the poor in the state of South Carolina, I have often been misunderstood and even maligned, resulting in the tarnishing of my “good name”.

My White Colleagues in the General Assembly have no clue that some of my African American colleagues in the House and Senate are still very upset with me for not supporting the Boycott of South Carolina by the NAACP.

This is what they do not understand: In 1967, as a young man, I was a Civil Rights Activist and a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) alongside Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I understand the ramifications of a boycott based on a moral issue.  The very first bill I introduced as a State Senator was to resolve the confederate flag issue.   The same legislation I introduce in 1994 became law in July 2000.  No White or Black Senator was willing to co-sponsor the legislation with me from fear of being ostracized by various groups.  However, I knew that the flag issue had to be resolved and I believed that the longer we would have waited the more hardship it would have been for our beloved state.

As soon as the bill became law, the NAACP called for a boycott of South Carolina.  It was at that point that I sought assistance from Dr. James Bevels and Reverend James Orange whom I had worked with for several years as a staff person of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  Dr. Bevels, Reverend Orange, along with Reverend Jessie Jackson was experts on national and international boycotts.  I conferenced with them for several days and decided that I could not support the boycott because of two reasons; 1). I sponsored the legislation that ultimately became law and 2). Orange and Bevels would be forced to support my efforts and I believed eventually Reverend Jackson and the PUSH Rainbow Coalition as well.  Likely, BMW and Michelin would have pulled out of South Carolina because of all of the national and international support this boycott would have garnered.  We need only to look at South Africa for a modern day example. 

This would mean that access to South Carolina would have been frozen in regards to tourism, attracting new businesses and hosting national and international events. South Carolina would have been left in economic ruin. A confederate flag boycott is a moral issue and could have easily gotten support from a wide range of groups; particularly since in the year 2000 many of the great organizers of the SCLC was still alive. I did not believe that South Carolina could survive a boycott of that magnitude.

Limited civil rights activities were planned and staged in South Carolina.  The only major civil rights activity that South Carolina participated in was the 1969 hospital strike.  In fact, it was that strike that prompted James Bevel and James Orange to call me and ask me to come to Charleston, to help lead the boycott in South Carolina to force the state of South Carolina to rehire 1200 African American workers from the Medical University of South Carolina and pay them decent wages.

More importantly, I knew that many African Americans would not understand my reasons for not supporting the boycott but I believed in my heart and I still truly believe that it was the right thing to do.  My service and loyalty was to the people and the state of South Carolina and I believed that we simply had too much to lose. Because many African Americans were caught up in the emotional fervor of the confederate flag, they did not realize that African Americans would have suffered more than any other group of people and South Carolina would never have survived the racial tension that this type of boycott would have brought. So, I took a calculated risk, betting that soon people would figure out that economic security would outweigh the emotional fervor surrounding the confederate flag.

The media of South Carolina, nor my colleagues in the House and Senate, has never given me credit for introducing the bill to resolve the flag issue even though I was the only sponsor. Additionally, I was responsible for introducing the bill for the MLK Memorial Holiday and the Confederate Memorial Holiday; again without a single co-sponsor or recognition.

The truth is the state of South Carolina owes me a debt of gratitude. Clearly there is a misnomer and I would like to set the record straight. As soon as the NAACP boycott began, I was contacted by several companies looking to locate in the state of South Carolina.  However, they were concerned that the NAACP boycott would hamper their efforts.  Among these companies was Boeing/Vought   Aeronautics. I met with their representatives several times at Saffron Restaurant on E. Bay Street in Charleston.  While I cannot take sole credit for Vought locating in Charleston, South Carolina, no doubt I alleviated some fears because 2 years later Boeing put a Vought plant in North Charleston.  Vought is a subsidiary of Boeing.  After 5 or 6 years of struggling as Vought, Boeing decided to prop it up.  Essentially, Boeing took over its own plant and convinced or should I say duped the state of South Carolina into give them millions to do it.  While it is not surprising, it is painful to see my colleagues display selective amnesia as they jockey to take credit for bringing Boeing to South Carolina.

Because I was successful in removing the confederate flag and passing the Holiday Bill, I have detected some bitterness towards me from two or three Black organizations and several Black elected officials.  Every chance they get, they find it necessary to publicly disagree with issues and problems that I attempt to resolve. At this point, the merit of their disagreement is not important.  However, what they did not understand was that if that boycott would have reached full potential coupled with the recent economic downturn, African Americans in South Carolina would be in financial ruins.

When the confederate flag legislation passed in 2000 after 6 years of a standstill, the media called it a compromise.  Mohandas Gandhi once said that “all compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is surrender; for it is all give and no take.”  It is the fundamental right of all African Americans in the state of South Carolina to have economic opportunity.  Whether anyone wants to give me credit for it or not, my legislation provided that for African Americans.  There was no compromise. I refused to surrender that fundamental right.

Again, as we pause to pay homage to the greatest public servant to ever live, Jesus Christ, I am also reminded of the way he was often misunderstood and maligned for putting his service to the people above the political gamesmanship. Yet, he had the courage to continue to do what was right for the people, including giving his life. As I continue to display courage in my resolve to serve the people of South Carolina, I take pride in following Jesus’ example and comfort in knowing that persecution comes along with offering yourself in public service.

I wish for all of you PEACE!!

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