Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009

Raising the Flag Once More

Whenever a new voice calls attention to the the Confederate battle flag flying prominently in front of the S.C. Statehouse, its defenders claim with victorious glee that the matter is settled, that it’s in the past, that a deal was done and should be honored.

It can’t be settled, because it just keeps coming up. And just because a deal is done doesn’t make it right.

Public debate over the flag’s place seems likely to reignite next year, after two S.C candidates for major offices each described addressing it as part of their platforms. First, a Charleston attorney seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, Mullins McLeod, issued a jobs plan that calls for removing the controversial flag to a museum in order to improve the state’s reputation to businesses around the country. "It is time for us to send a clear and unambiguous signal to the rest of the country, and the entire world, that South Carolina is better than what people see on the news, and that we are ready to make progress," McLeod wrote.

The governor alone will have a difficult time removing the flag, as the "deal" that took the flag from its position of sovereignty over the Statehouse to mere prominence in front of it in 2000 requires a two-thirds vote of the state legislature to revisit. That’s why retired Air Force Col. Robert Burton, a Charleston Democrat seeking the nomination next year to challenge U.S. Rep. Henry Brown for the Congressional seat that stretches along the S.C. coast, proposes enlisting tourism-based chambers of commerce in Myrtle Beach, Charleston and other areas to create political pressure.

The economic boycott of the state by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – in addition to costing the state an unknown number of family reunions, church events and possibly even movie shoots – has bedeviled the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to develop sports tourism in the area, most notoriously in the loss of a college baseball tournament over the summer. As the Grand Strand struggles to replace its biker revenue with a variety of festivals, we have suggested that local elected officials use their political clout in Columbia to try to reopen the dialogue with the NAACP. Burton’s suggestion that business leaders do so as well is also welcome.

Though all five Republicans running for governor have lamentably said they are unwilling to discuss moving the flag again, both McLeod and Burton are making economic arguments for seeking an end to the boycott. If next year is as dominated by a stressed economy as 2009 has been, those arguments may prove attractive.

Compromise could emerge in any number of forms. S.C. historians were delighted this fall with the return to the Citadel of the 150-year-old "Big Red," the crimson variation on the Palmetto State flag carried by Citadel cadets in their attack on Union troops at Fort Sumter at the outset of the Civil War in 1861. Wouldn’t a replica of that flag – rather than the racially inflammatory Army of Northern Virginia battle flag – be a more fitting memorial honoring the Confederate dead’s service to their state?

On The Web:   www.thesunnews.com/opinion/story/1188244.html