For almost 25 years, we have worked together on a variety of issues to promote unity over division, build a common agenda for the advancement of public education and create economic opportunities for all South Carolinians.
We both opposed the establishment of the state lottery in South Carolina because we agreed that it promoted luck over hard work and preyed upon the poor. We feared that it would lead to lessening of state support for public education even though it attempted to benefit some through scholarships. We agreed on the need to bring the Confederate battlefield flag off the dome and out of the chambers of the State House and to see that it does not fly in a position of sovereignty.
We participated in the Inaugural ceremonies for Governor-elect Mark Sanford in 2003, as one chaired the inaugural committee and the other, by invitation of the chairman, offered the invocation.
We supported the lawsuit brought in 1993 by 40 rural school districts for equitable funding, an issue still not settled twenty years later by the State Supreme Court.
Now we have agreed to work together with others to promote equity and progress through racial reconciliation in South Carolina. We know what can happen when people of good will address their differences and acknowledge wrongs. Divisiveness has burdened this state since its founding and continues to divide us.
A sober reading of our history reveals that African-American gains achieved during Reconstruction were taken away by the populist movement of Gov. “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and its violently insidious efforts to roll back African-American political, legal and civil rights.
South Carolina’s leadership, from the colonial era to today, has largely shaped the politics of our state around race, leading many citizens to work against their best interests because of irrational fears about citizens of a different color. You can see it in our schools, in the social and health conditions in many of our communities and in the growing income disparity between whites and blacks.
One modest step towards fairness came in 1999 with the construction of the African American History Monument on the State House grounds. Until its dedication, not a single monument recognizing the legacy of African-American progress stood among the countless monuments to the state’s white political and military leadership.
A promising next step has been modeled by Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. Named for former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, the institute’s programs focus on adults and youths and provide Mississippi communities with two-year reconciliation-related projects. It guides citizens through relationship and trust-building exercises. These groups next design and carry out community-service projects. The groups then drive an effort to create a community “equity plan ... recognizing local policies that have created inequitable conditions, and engaging power holders to transform those policies into equitable policies.”
The William Winter institute's vision statement states that it “envisions a world where people honestly engage in their history in order to live more truthfully in the present, where the inequities of the past no longer dictate the possibilities of the future. We envision a world where people of all identities are treated equally, where equality of and access to opportunity are available and valued by all; where healing and reconciliation are commonplace and social justice is upheld and honored.”
Gov. Winter said, “The ultimate test of our system is based on the confidence of the people in the integrity of and commitment to the advancement of the communal values of a civil society.”
Following that path in South Carolina will require the buy-in of many parties and a commitment to a multi-year program of dialogue and common agenda-building. That goes against the grain for those who don’t like to talk honestly about the past, listen to other perspectives or build a unified vision for our state and for those who make political “hay” from political partisanship and from the politics of racial fear and division.
Heavy lifting will be needed, but the benefit will be great because the time for reconciliation between the races in South Carolina is long overdue and the time for action is now.