"It would make us a more progressive, better state, I think, if the flag was removed. But I’m not going to go on any big campaign to have it removed. That’s not my position."
— Steve Spurrier
Well, it is my position, and the big campaign starts now. Or rather, resumes now. My own campaign in that regard began in 1994 when I joined the editorial board. Hundreds of editorials and columns later (I lost count around 200; the total is likely closer to three), reinforced in the latter years by Warren Bolton, the flag came down from its position of false sovereignty atop the dome.
Not to say we can take credit. We just kept the issue out there; it was a broad spectrum of South Carolinians stepping forward and speaking up for common sense and decency that moved the flag. It would have been gone for good from the grounds, too, but for the Legislature’s habitual reluctance to act wisely.
Here’s what I wrote on the day it came down. Clearly, my intent was to keep working on the problem. My hope was to achieve something like what former House Speaker Bob Sheheen had tried to promote on the House floor — a small bronze plaque saying that here the flag once flew. You know, treat history as history rather than trying to repeat the worst bits of it.
But once the momentum of that push settled down, and most of the parties who made it happened went home feeling more or less satisfied that they had at least accomplished something, the relative quiet was filled by the ineffective and counterproductive NAACP boycott, and the visceral reaction to it. I’ve written about the need to bring the flag down a number of times since then, and so has Warren. But it’s always been in the context of that useless conflict. We had to say, "Pay no attention to that group making all the noise; let’s move the flag because we know it’s the right thing to do." But up to now, we might as well have been shouting at a stone wall.
Why? Because the NAACP was the only organization out there making any news on the subject, largely because news coverage is attracted, unfortunately, to conflict. But as I’ve written before, and mark this, the flag will never come down in reaction to a NATIONAL interest group that promotes the advancement of a segment of society defined by skin color — any skin color. That just won’t happen. Nor should it. South Carolina has to decide to do this thing itself because it wants to, because it has grown to the point that it can put such things behind it. Otherwise, nothing is accomplished.
What we need is what we had in 2000 — a coalition of South Carolinians of all colors and persuasions working to drag our state out of the 19th century, through the 20th and into the 21st, all in one smooth motion. A positive, many-sided coalition rather than a negative monolith, one that can make enough sensible noise to drown out the talk about a boycott that in any event has had no appreciable effect on anything, other than to tick off enough people to make positive movement impossible.
Here’s the big secret that I’ve also disclosed before: Most South Carolinians either want to move on past the flag, or they don’t care. The numbers who actively want the thing flying there are a minority. But they are maniacally passionate, and politicians — particularly Republican politicians, and Republicans run the Legislature — fear them. Why did we not move all the way to a real solution of the problem in 2000? Because Mr. Sheheen’s successor didn’t even want to discuss it; he wanted to move the lame Senate "compromise" through the House in a single day and wash his hands of the taint. It’s not that David Wilkins cared about keep the flag flying; he didn’t. But he needed some of the Republicans who did in order to keep his power as speaker, and feared their ire.
So let’s get the momentum back. Let the coach do football, and the rest of us do the politics. Here’s what I propose:
Let’s start a new organization, today, called "South Carolinians for the Advancement of All South Carolinians." Our aim will be to make the Legislature hear the voice of the majority of people of all colors in our state, who are sick and tired of this farce of flying that flag on our State House grounds, and fed up with the harm it does us all — not just in terms of how the world views us, but in terms of how we see ourselves, and how we live together as a people.
Please join today. And if you’ve got a better name for the organization, let’s hear it. But it’s time to get the momentum going again, and move our state away from the most horrible time in our past, and toward a better future for us all.