Monday marked an historic day in Myrtle Beach as its City Council voted unanimously at a special meeting to support efforts to encourage the South Carolina General Assembly to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds.
Calls for the flag’s removal were sparked by the shooting of nine African American worshippers in a Charleston church earlier this month. Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist whose social media pages boasted pictures of the 21-year-old waving the Confederate flag and burning the American flag, has been charged in their deaths.
Last week, Gov. Nikki Haley, along with U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, called for the General Assembly to allow the state to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House.
In a city where the stars and bars are displayed prominently on towels, T-shirts and swimwear in many beach shops along Kings Highway and Ocean Boulevard, Mayor John Rhodes said it’s not that the symbol of the Confederacy should be forgotten, but it doesn’t belong on state grounds.
“It’s not a law that you’re not going to be able to have these towels that have the Confederate flag,” Rhodes said. “There’s not a law that says you can’t sell the Confederate flag. What we’re talking about is a law that takes the flag off of being displayed as a feature display on Capitol grounds, where it should not be. It should be a feature display in a museum of the Confederate history.”
Bo Bryan, a Myrtle Beach resident who attended the special meeting, reminisced about growing up in the 1960s in Myrtle Beach and how locals frowned upon northerners moving to the area.
“For my generation, the Confederacy still lived,” Bryan said. “Being born to South Carolina, where the war began, I was more than proud. It was my obligation at any opportunity to display my linkage with Robert E. Lee, the stars and bars, and the rebel yell. I knew little of the lost cause except that it was lost, as though it had been stolen, taken away by bullies in blue uniforms. Any suggestion to take down the flag, in those days, would have been met with BB guns and cherry bombs.”
But Bryan said times have changed and there is a place for the Confederate flag, just not at the Capitol.
“I have not outgrown my heritage,” Bryan said. “Ancestors of mine fought in the war… The tide has turned. Now’s the time to take down the flag. For South Carolina to finally retire the stars and bars will be an act of maturity. Many say it's long overdue, others rage that it's never to be forgiven.
“The flag is not to blame,” he said. “It does not belong at the center of the tragedy in the Holy City. It got there, and to the State House lawn, because South Carolina, in 1961, took the wrong side again under the banner of state’s rights, in another losing fight: segregation.”
Bennie Swans, founder of the Carolina African American Heritage Foundation, commended the council for taking a stand.
“Thank you for dealing with a very difficult issue at a very difficult time, showing that we can rise above those things that separate us…,” Swans said. “I support this council for having the courage at a difficult time. All people will not agree. They’ll look at you with disdain. They may not even give you their vote. But there’s a whole lot of people, I think a solid majority, that will look at each of you as I’m looking at you today and say thank you.”
Joseph Washington, pastor at HOPE Church in Myrtle Beach, said he strongly supports the council’s decision and said the act of removing the flag couldn’t come soon enough.
“It certainly makes me feel better and better to be a resident of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,” Washington said. “The longer it stays on that flagpole, the more divisive it becomes. For me and many others, it is a symbol of white supremacy. It is a symbol of oppression, sovereignty and slavery.”
Bryan said he thinks the flag “should have been retired before it was redesigned as a beach towel.”
“And so it is coming, for by the sight of the flag too many are reminded of hate instead of brotherhood under fire, which knows no cause, or politics,” Bryan said. “For too many, the flag reflects cancerous division and bigotry, not fidelity to homeland. For too many villains have flown it, and for too many the flag simply doesn’t flutter between the heartstrings anymore. For all who love it, the unavoidable is arrived… The only wise choice is dignified surrender.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.