Editorials

Compromise is the only solution

I can't jump off a tall building here in Conway because there aren't any. On the other hand, maybe I can get a similar experience by diving into the Confederate flag debate.

The banner that flies in front of the statehouse is the South Carolina Infantry Battle Flag. Its public display is opposed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others. They don't like the fact that this flag has been used in a derogatory manner by fringe groups to oppose civil rights, literally waved in the faces of demonstrators. This lent the impression, wrongly, that the Confederacy was only about the suppression of black people.

Would an alternate flag more accurately honor the Confederacy without offending those who feel taunted by the battle flag's prominent display? For example, the following banners aren't associated with opposition to anyone's rights or with animosity toward any people of color:

the "Stars and Bars," the first official flag of the CSA, flown from 1861-1863;

the "Bonnie Blue," used unofficially in the months before war was declared and flown above the Confederate batteries that opened fire on Fort Sumter; and,

the "Sovereignty (or Secession) Flag," which includes the crescent moon and palmetto tree of the South Carolina state flag.

Any of these flags would appropriately proclaim that secession and independence are a celebrated part of this state's history of opposing political tyranny. Confederates had a variety of motivations and such opposition was certainly one of them. South Carolina history includes secession from the British Commonwealth. The state also provided troops to the Continental Congress for the revolution that achieved American independence.

The legislation that placed the battle flag in front of the state Capitol was the result of a compromise that included the black caucus and the African American Monument that was constructed on the statehouse grounds. Replacing the battle flag would require another compromise. If the General Assembly agreed to amend the statutes concerning the flag, how would the NAACP respond?

Dropping their boycott, which came after legislation authorized the placement of the battle flag, would probably not be enough. The previous compromise gave the impression that the racial issue was settled. The boycott came out of left field, so to speak.

Naturally, the final decision on what it would take to settle this issue is in the hands of the flag supporters in the legislature. One scenario might be for the NAACP to formally acknowledge that those who supported and fought for the CSA had complex motivations, including the deep-rooted American instinct to rebel against perceived tyranny, and that slavery was not the only issue.

Such a declaration might allow the two sides to begin a dialogue. In my opinion, a good agreement would be to exchange the flying of a conciliatory (and historically proper) flag for the publication of a conciliatory (and historically proper) statement. It's likely that neither side would be completely happy but that's the essence of compromise. Whatever the arrangement, South Carolina needs a healing on this issue.

A bold initiative on the flag was commenced by Phil Render of the Myrtle Beach city council, with assistance from Mickey James and Bennie Swans of the local NAACP leadership. Will other leaders emerge? Can a compromise be fashioned?

Some might say that we'll see skyscrapers in Conway first. For a variety of reasons, I certainly hope not.

The writer is executive vice president and professor of politics at Coastal Carolina University.

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