Martinez: Removing Confederate flag denies NC history

Published: April 2, 2013
By Rick Martinez

Three months into the job, Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is batting .500 when it comes to race.

It scored a hit when it axed the Office of Hispanic/Latino Affairs. The office did perform admirable work helping Spanish-language residents recover from storm-related disasters, and it also provided assistance with state health and census initiatives.

Still, this contribution was primarily work that can be more effectively accomplished by the Governor’s Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. With the help of grants, the council can utilize the state’s talented Latino grassroots organizations to the point that the Hispanic/Latino Affairs Office won’t be missed.

The McCrory Administration struck out, however, when it took down the Confederate battle flag from the House chamber in the old State Capitol building.

The flag was removed after state NAACP president, Rev. William Barber objected. It hung as part of an historical display illustrating how the Capitol appeared during the Civil War.

The flag was scheduled for removal in April 2015, the 150th anniversary of the Union reclaiming North Carolina from the Confederacy.

Rev. Barber conceded the confederacy and its battle flag are a significant part of the state’s history. “But what is that history?” he said to The Associated Press. “The history of racism. The history of lynchings. The history of death. The history of slavery.

“If you say that shouldn’t be offensive, then either you don’t know the history, or you are denying the history.”

Fact is, Rev. Barber and the McCrory administration are the ones denying history. Censoring North Carolina’s past doesn’t erase it.

People of all colors should not only be fully informed of the state’s Confederate story, but inspired by it, particularly at the State Capitol.

On the Capitol’s first floor is the office of Thomas Stith, the governor’s chief of staff. Naturally, he’s one of the most influential people in the state. McCrory convinced Stith to take the job after the former Durham city councilman impressed the governor with his management of the transition team.

Stith is also black. His family has a long history in North Carolina. They were first brought to the state as slaves to work the Coolmore Plantation in Tarboro. The family also has a place in the state’s civil rights movement.

Thomas is the son of David Stith, a onetime prominent, no-nonsense Durham businessman.

In the late 1950s, David was among a group of Durham citizens who had tired of the NAACP’s plodding, incremental approach to attaining equality.

So they planned something bold.

David Stith helped organize a sit-in at the Royal Ice Cream Parlor in Durham. Even though the store was in a black neighborhood, blacks could enter only through the backdoor facing Roxboro Street.

Whites entered through the front door facing Dowd Street.

Coloreds, as blacks were called, couldn’t eat in the parlor. They were relegated to the parking lot.

In June 1957 – three years before the more famous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro – seven black Durham citizens entered the Royal Ice Cream Parlor and sat in the dining area reserved for whites.

They were arrested, convicted of trespassing, and ordered to pay a $10 fine. They refused and appealed their convictions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear their case.

The “Royal Seven,” it seems, were simply ahead of their time.

This is the inspiring history Rev. Barber should embrace with the hanging of the Confederate battle flag.

Despite the flag’s history of racism, lynching and enslavement, North Carolina’s African-Americans have worked hard and risked all to rise to the highest echelons of power and influence.

As a forward-looking people, we always believe more can be accomplished. But the flag’s presence in the same Capitol building where the highest ranking official is the descendent of a slave is a stirring representation of how much division North Carolina has overcome.

Sadly, it’s also the powerful legacy the McCrory Administration chose to hide when it removed the Confederate battle flag from the old House chamber.

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