“It’s an issue that hasn’t been an issue for the three years I’ve been [in the S.C. Senate.]”
Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Little River
It’s time to make one thing clear:
The Confederate flag has always been an issue for black South Carolinians.
It was an issue when the Ku Klux Klan was founded by Confederate soldiers.
It was an issue when that flag was used during Klan rides that ended in black men hanging from trees and having their genitals removed during barbaric public lynchings.
Dylann Roof was not the first killer to soak that flag in African American blood.
It was an issue every time Klan members — disguised as governors and legislators and sheriffs and judges and jurors — used it during rallies and cross “lightings.”
It was an issue when it was thrust high above the State House dome in 1962 in defiance of the Civil Rights Movement.
It was an issue when it was moved to the Confederate soldier’s monument in front of the State House.
It was an issue when headlines about the boycott by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People faded.
It was an issue when people like me got tired of trying to open the minds of good people about just what that flag means that we stopped talking about it publicly.
It has never not been an issue.
It’s an issue every time someone explains away the causes of the Civil War to protect the image of that flag.
It’s an issue every time we see it in store windows and on the back of pick-up trucks.
It’s an issue even when we decide to be close friends with those who revere that flag, knowing that they aren’t purposefully trying to support what the leaders of the Confederacy said the lost cause was all about, the permanent enslavement of people who look like us because, in the minds of Confederate leaders, God assigned white people the superior position.
Having the flag on State House grounds for 53 years has been particularly cruel, ugly.
It’s a daily reminder that most of the people we send to Columbia don’t give a damn about what we think or who we are.
Enduring the presence of the flag on bumper stickers and T-shirts is just another part of life in South Carolina that we’ve long accepted because we understand full well that living in a free society means tolerating things we don’t like and wouldn’t choose for ourselves.
We even gathered around the TV on Friday nights like our white friends to watch the “Dukes of Hazzard” and the iconic “General Lee” with that flag on the roof.
But that flag at the State House has been beyond demeaning, a taunting middle finger from the graves of those who would enslave us.
That’s true on days we scream about it — and get shouted down and blamed for stirring up racial unrest.
It’s true on days when we say nothing — because of fear or resignation or a kind of learned helplessness — allowing a silence to take hold that suggests we don’t really care that flag flies in a place of honor.
But we do.
We always have.