The killing of a member of the state Legislature shocked other members into action to remove the Confederate battle flag that flies on the State House grounds, a development that the tourism boycott imposed by the NAACP 15 years ago had not so far accomplished.
Sen. Clementa Pinckney, also a pastor, was one of nine shot dead at a Bible study meeting in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston the evening of June 17.
“It is because of Senator Pinckney’s death, because of the respect Senator Pinckney had,” Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, said Thursday.
“This is a unique situation with huge national attention focused on the flag because of the racist killing of nine in their church, not just Clem,” said Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach. “Never before has there been so much pressure from so many quarters, and so much initial negative, embarrassing publicity for the state,’’ he said. “Hence, never before so much willingness to face the issue again.”
“You’re the one that did it,” Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, said to Pinckney’s body at the funeral Friday, drawing roars and applause. The flag was the object of several comments during Pinckney’s funeral.
On Thursday, former Sen. Glenn McConnell of Charleston, architect of the 2000 law that removed the flag from the Capitol dome and put it on the grounds at the Civil War memorial instead, also called for its removal.
McConnell, now president of College of Charleston, said that on State House grounds “we should seek to respect the views of all citizens as best we reasonably can,” and that he supports removing the flag “as a visible statement of courtesy and good will to all those who may be offended by it.”
The boycott imposed by the NAACP has had significant effects on tourism, although they are not easily quantifiable, said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. The effects are especially noticeable for National Collegiate Athletic Association and Atlantic Coast Conference games, because those organizations are observing the boycott.
He said he believes there will be “quick economic wins” if the flag is removed.
Neither state nor local NAACP representatives responded to requests for comment for this report.
Next steps for legislators
At a special session Tuesday for considering the budget, members of both the House and Senate mourned the death of Pinckney, who had also served in the House two terms before being elected to the Senate in 2000.
The young white visitor accused of the killings in the black church, Dylann Storm Roof, was later caught and found to have vowed to kill black people, hoping to start a race war to advance white supremacy. Photos of him holding a Confederate flag, and the Confederate flag on the front decorative license plate of his car, prompted new calls for the removal of the flag from the Capitol grounds.
The legislative session is officially over for this year, but lawmakers agreed to consider bills removing the flag, either in a final budget session to consider vetoes, or in a later special session.
The House voted 103-10 to take up the flag bills. All Horry and Georgetown County members were in favor except Kevin Hardee, R-Conway.
The Senate agreed to take up the bills on a voice vote, but three Upstate members asked to be recorded as voting against the measure.
Bills were introduced in both chambers and given the first of three readings.
An indication of the flag bill’s support in the Senate is that the bill has 29 co-sponsors, a comfortable majority of the 46 members.
All Horry and Georgetown senators are co-sponsors except Cleary, who was absent that day, and his support would bring favorable votes to 30.
“I think it will pass,” Cleary predicted.
“My hope is that out of this evil act, God will make something good, a symbolic legacy honoring the nine lives so tragically lost,” Rankin said.
The margin in the House indicates the bill could pass easily. But rules of the Senate allow one person to prevent consideration of a bill, or to filibuster it.
If that happens in this case, senators feel so strongly about this issue that they will most likely break their unwritten code that allows someone to keep talking, and quickly provide the two-thirds majority needed to make the person stop talking, Cleary said.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, which opposed removing the flag from the dome, has vowed to fight removing it from the grounds.
Supporters say the flag is not to be blamed, and it should remain at the monument as a proper commemoration to those who died in the war.
Flashback 15 years
The tourism boycott was called by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in January 2000, urging lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag from its prominent position on the Capitol dome, beneath the United States and South Carolina flags.
The flag did not have a historical spot there. It was raised in 1961 as a Civil War memorial, though some believe it was also in protest of the Civil Rights movement.
Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, said his father, George Campsen, was one of the legislators who voted to fly the Confederate battle flag on the dome, and that it was not meant to stay there indefinitely but that members neglected to put an end date in the bill.
Legislators debated taking the flag down for four years beginning in 1996, but the boycott and resulting publicity forced action in the 2000 session, where it was hotly contested for months.
Supporters of the flag and opponents of the flag held mass rallies and demonstrations at the Capitol.
McConnell and others proposed a compromise to move the flag to the Confederate soldiers’ memorial, then refused any further compromise. Although it has a prominent position in front of the Capitol, they said it was not a place of sovereignty, and that the NAACP had demanded its removal from the dome, not the entire grounds.
Moving the flag to the monument was as far as the Senate or most House members would go. McConnell said at the time, it was either the monument or the dome, nothing else.
After the Senate voted 36-7 to move the flag from the dome, McConnell said that might not solve racial problems, “but it represents significant growth and progress on that course.”
Legislators said they hoped the NAACP would agree and lift the boycott. But flag opponents said they were shocked and insulted.
Instead, the organization voted later that summer to expand and continue the boycott.
“It was known by all the parties to this controversy and it is very insulting and disrespectful to us that this is what the Senate did,” said AME Bishop John Hurst Adams after the final vote.
“Of all the proposals presented, the Senate picked the one that was most objectionable to the people who want it removed.”
Sen. John Land, D-Manning, was in favor of removing the flag but told flag opponents there were not enough votes to put it anywhere else, and would not be.
“Nothing can change it, no boycott, no pressure from the tourism industry,” Land said.
During the House debate that year, Rep. John Scott of Columbia predicted the compromise would not last. Scott, now a senator, said, “I don’t care where we fly another flag on these grounds, it won’t be over. It can’t be over.”
But when signing the bill, Gov. Jim Hodges said, “Today, we bring this debate to an honorable end.”
Each January since, as part of its King Day at the Dome rally, the NAACP called for removal of the flag from the grounds.
Occasionally a bill was filed to do that, but ignored.
“When people would bring it up, it was so controversial that I don’t think anybody wanted to take it up,” Cleary said.
NAACP boycott affects Myrtle Beach
While impacts of the boycott may not be easily calculated, “how many people, and how many opportunities, did we just not even get to bid on,’’ Cleary said.
“There is absolutely no denying that the NAACP boycott has negatively impacted our tourism industry, both in terms of unfavorable publicity and economic losses,” Dean said.
“While most people are only aware of highly publicized groups who steered clear of our state (e.g. NCAA Basketball tournament, ACC Men’s Baseball Tournament), we are continually reminded of groups and individual consumers who silently boycott us. Those silent losses add up as well, though there’s no way to quantify the total economic damage.’’
He remembered the day ACC Commissioner John Swofford called to tell him the organization was canceling its plans to bring the men’s baseball tournament to Myrtle Beach, “taking with it the national television broadcast and millions of dollars we had planned for,” Dean said.
Swofford added that he and ACC fans love Myrtle Beach and if the boycott were ever lifted, the organization would reconsider.
“The economic losses due to the NAACP boycott are real but, of course, they don’t compare to the tragic loss of life our state has recently suffered,” Dean said.
“Sadly, it took a senseless massacre to force this discussion, but perhaps something good will come from something very bad.”
Contact Zane Wilson at email@example.com.