Put flag in ‘historical context’


The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.
Thursday, September 24, 2009

As a former First Vice-President of the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP and one of the authors of the national NAACP’s sanctions to promote the proper contextual display of the Confederate battle flag that now flies in front of our State Capitol, I remember the events and rhetoric surrounding what passed for a "compromise" nearly a decade ago. Those who embraced that legislative deal predicted that it would make the NAACP’s sanctions moot and that the sanctions would "collapse under their own weight."

Nearly 10 years later, however, the sanctions are still in effect and many national organizations are still avoiding South Carolina. The related decision of the Atlantic Coast Conference to hold their 2011-13 baseball championships in North Carolina rather than Myrtle Beach has caused considerable consternation to those who erroneously considered the matter to be settled. In August, state Rep. Chip Limehouse demanded in an opinion column that the NAACP drop its "boycott." In a column on Sept. 19, state Sen. Glenn McConnell was pointedly strident in his condemnation of the ACC and labeled the NAACP as a "fringe organization."

Since I responded to Rep. Limehouse, I’d also like to respond to Sen. McConnell. I will not, however, try to match his insults and innuendo point for point and word for word, since the facts speak for themselves and since my Southern mother taught me that only those who hold indefensible positions resort to rude insults.

Without repeating my response to Mr. Limehouse in detail, let me again note that the NAACP was not a party to and never approved the "compromise." We stayed away from the negotiating table because, as some of Sen. McConnell’s colleagues said nearly a decade ago, "Whatever the NAACP likes, I’ll oppose." The 11th-hour compromise was not the product of negotiation between parties of diverse position, but a legislative exercise in political expediency that attempted to preserve the status quo by shifting the flag’s location and offering a few symbolic "bones" to those who called for the flag’s removal.

The NAACP sanctions against interstate tourism that forced the "compromise" were enacted only after years of marches, demonstrations and even prayer vigils fell on deaf and obstinate legislative ears. It was only after the imposition of those sanctions that those in our legislature "saw the light" and removed the flag from the Statehouse dome and legislative chambers. The sanctions called for that removal and for the removal of the flag from all "places of sovereignty."

Sen. McConnell notes that the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi incorporate the Confederate flag. While that may be objectionable to some, both are the flags of existing sovereign states. Sen. McConnell notes that the Confederate flag flies over North Carolina’s Statehouse on selected days of significance, but that display is not continual. Senator McConnell notes that Confederate flags are displayed in proximity to the Confederate Monument on the grounds of Alabama’s Statehouse. That monument, however, is on the side of the building and not in front.

South Carolina’s present placement of the Confederate flag is beside our Statehouse’s Confederate memorial, but that memorial is in front of the Statehouse.

The front of any public building — from a Statehouse to a school — should be reserved only for the flags of existing governmental entities. There is thankfully, no existing governmental entity called the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy is a part of our state’s history, and until the flag is moved to a historical context, the NAACP’s sanctions will continue.

Contrary to Sen. McConnell’s assertion, the NAACP thrives not on controversy but on the quest for equity and has not sought to eradicate Southern history. Had we done so, then the sanctions would have included other Statehouse monuments like those to Gov. Benjamin Tillman, a genocidal racist, and Dr. Marion Sims, whose advances in gynecology were the result of brutal experiments on black women. Our demand and desire is that the Confederate flag be displayed in a clear and unquestionable historical context. All South Carolinians can then commemorate that history and hopefully remember — in these times when racial prejudice is again on the rise nationally — not to repeat that history.

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