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Bestler | Finally the Confederate flag comes down from Capitol

An honor guard from the South Carolina Highway Patrol removes the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds Friday, July 10, 2015, in Columbia.
An honor guard from the South Carolina Highway Patrol removes the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds Friday, July 10, 2015, in Columbia. AP

I was in Columbia on July 1, 2000, when the Confederate flag was lowered from the state Capitol and moved a few hundred feet away to a Confederate monument on State House grounds.

The ceremony was considered by many to be the final word on South Carolina's long, lingering flag controversy, but I never believed that was the end of it.

I suggested as much in a column the following day, noting, for instance, that moments after the flag was raised next to the Confederate monument, a small group of young African-Americans carrying an American flag marched through the crowd.

It was clear that they and other African-Americans saw removing the flag from the State House as a hollow victory. A significant step, yes, but the battle flag of the Confederacy still flew on State House grounds, perhaps more visible now than before.

Nor did it satisfy groups that continued to boycott South Carolina and companies that refused to locate here because of the racial insensitivity represented by the Confederate flag.

Even as I watched on that July day, I thought the controversy would continue and I was always surprised when barely a word of protest was said publicly over the next 15 years.

Frankly, I think people were simply tired of a debate that could often get ugly; one Republican governor, David Beasley, had already lost a reelection bid when he came out against the flag and lost a large segment of his constituency.

No one really wanted to touch the issue again -- until the day last month when a Confederate-flag-loving young man killed nine African-Americans in a Charleston church.

The horror of his action ignited a firestorm of antagonism against the Confederate flag, not only in South Carolina but throughout the nation.

It is to the everlasting credit to Gov. Nikki Haley and the S.C. General Assembly that such bold action was taken to finally move the flag inside, to a military museum where it has always belonged.

It says much about South Carolina that after all these 50 years the end came so swiftly and with such little rancor.

We are, for once, on the right side of history.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net

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