Oh, I wish I was in the land of nylon…

That video on my last post brings to mind the farcical instance in which Sen. Glenn McConnell decided to switch to a nylon Confederate flag on the State House grounds.

Here’s what I wrote about that at the time:

These colors don’t run, but they’re made of the same stuff as pantyhose

By Brad Warthen
Editorial Page Editor

Oh, I wish I was in the land of nylon;
Old times there are not . . .

* . . to pile on?
* . . four miles on?
* . . a trial run?

Help me. I’m trying to adjust to an entirely new conception of the Old South, and it’s not easy.

It turns out that, contrary to popular misconceptions that it was technologically disadvantaged, the Confederacy was way ahead of its times – at least in the production of synthetic fabrics. There’s no other way to explain the fact that some of the foremost keepers of the Confederate flame – including at least one real stickler for authenticity – have insisted that the cotton flag flying behind the soldier monument on the State House grounds be replaced with a banner of nylon.mcconnell

Sen. Glenn McConnell owns a Civil War memorabilia shop in Charleston, and is known for three great passions: the South Carolina Senate, Civil War battle re-enactments and the Confederate submarine Hunley. This is a man reputed to own and frequently wear more than a dozen different, meticulously accurate, Confederate and Union uniforms.

To the best of my knowledge, not one is made of nylon.

And yet he thought it best to replace the cotton flag with a nylon one for a couple of reasons. One was that the cotton one didn’t fly as well in the breeze. I’ll come back to that. The other was that the colors on the cotton flag ran in the rain. “You get pink stars and everything,” he told The State‘s Valerie Bauerlein. “We shouldn’t be flying a flag like that.”

“We shouldn’t be flying a flag like that.” That sounds like what I used to say about another Confederate flag that used to fly over our State House. You remember that flag. It went up in 1962, ostensibly to commemorate the centennial of the war, and failed to come down in 1965.

That flag had a lot of problems, not least of which being the fact that it was absurd to fly a relic of history over our present-day seat of government. It wasn’t even an accurate relic. It wasn’t square, like the flag that most South Carolinians fought under with the Army of Northern Virginia. It was rectangular – like the battle flag of the Army of the Tennessee, or the Confederate naval jack. Or the “Rebel Flag” that was so popular among white supremacists through much of the 20th century.

So, after years of arguing, we South Carolinians came up with a compromise that fell far short of pleasing everybody, but which at least made some sense: We would fly a scrupulously accurate Army of Northern Virginia flag behind the monument on the State House grounds honoring all the South Carolinians who fought and died for the Confederacy.

No, the bill authorizing the change said nothing about cotton. It didn’t have to. But everyone had reasons to assume it would be.

The actual flags issued to Confederate soldiers to carry into battle were made of cotton bunting. If cotton was good enough for them, why isn’t it good enough for latter-day Confederate wannabes?

The flag that flew over the State House all of those years with the approval of Sen. McConnell and others was made of the same stuff. If it was good enough to fly there for 38 years, why isn’t it good enough now?

Does it really matter whether the flag is made of cotton or nylon? Maybe not. But you would think it would, for two reasons. The first is that some participants in the debate who wanted no flag on the grounds gave in to this compromise because they had been assured quietly that an authentic flag would not be too conspicuous; it would only wave in the strongest of winds.

The second is that it is completely ridiculous to say you can better honor those who fought for the land of cotton with a nylon flag, which once again calls into question the motives of those who have advocated flying the banner: Is it really about honoring ancestors, or is it about defiantly waving a red flag in the faces of people who don’t want to see it?

Sen. John Courson is another “War Between the States” enthusiast. He was also the chief author of the 1994 Heritage Act, which was the basis for the compromise of 2000.

He said he recalls no “specific discussion” in 2000 as to what the flag would be made of, but adds that “I assumed when I drafted the Heritage Act that we’d use a cotton bunting flag.” Over the six years it took to settle this issue, he took an authentic Army of Northern Virginia flag from his office to many meetings on the issue, to show what he had in mind. What was that flag made of? “It was absolutely cotton,” he said.

I asked him whether he wanted to see a nylon flag flying at that monument. “No,” he said. He had a number of good reasons, chief among them the fact that he has respect for the war dead and for history, and, “Cotton is authentic.”

Besides, he said, “I’m a Southerner; I like cotton.”


That column ran on Dec. 9, 2001. Yes, in the months following the Sept. 11 attacks on this country, as Americans were fighting in Afghanistan, Sen. McConnell was obsessing over whether the Confederate battle flag flew visibly enough on our Capitol lawn, and whether the stars were pink.

By the way, Sen. Courson had good reason to oppose this move. He was indeed very invested in the idea that the flag would be made of a heavy cotton fabric, and not only for reasons of historical accuracy. In the days leading up to the now-infamous compromise of 2000, he led me out onto the State House grounds one bright afternoon and directed my attention to the monument, where the flag would go. He asked me to imagine a flag that was sufficiently heavy that it would be visible only in the strongest of winds. It wouldn’t be in anyone’s face. It would just be a historically accurate tribute to war dead. Most of the time, no one would realize what it was if they didn’t already know.

Sen. Courson kept his word on that. But others had other things on their minds. Such, on occasion, is the honor of would-be Confederate gentlemen.

And if the gentleman wishes to seek satisfaction, his seconds can find me at my club on almost any weekday morning.

10 thoughts on “Oh, I wish I was in the land of nylon…

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    What you had there was a failure to communicate. Folks what think lawyers are just word-twisters might ought to think twice–seems like some folks just wanted the most minimal gesture of appeasement to the white supremacists, while others thought they were getting an up-close-and-in-your-face kind of substitution.

    Too bad the latter are in the Charleston power bloc, and the former are just those of us who live here in our fair city and have to look at the flag of shame all the time.

  2. Michael Rodgers

    Eco-Devo, the Confederate flag, and Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston).

    Sen. Ford wrote in the Charleston City Paper, Dec 10, 2009:
    “When Boeing and Vought Aeronautics decided to relocate to Charleston several years ago, two of their officials met with me for several hours regarding whether they should come to South Carolina in light of the Confederate flag issue.”


    Sen. Robert Ford wrote in the SC Senate Journal Feb 9, 2010:
    “We lost some major businesses [prior to the Confederate flag relocation in 2000] in South Carolina because Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and other southern states were able to say we don’t have an issue like South Carolina fighting in the Civil War. So I wanted to clear that issue up right away to make sure that we had a chance to compete with the rest of the country in bringing major industry to South Carolina and we have been very successful. I think the only issue that might have had something to do with it losing was the Daimler Chrysler situation.”


  3. Walter

    Kathryn – To use your logic in another thread, I’ll give you some advice based on it. “You don’t have to look at it”. If you drive up Assembly turn onto Taylor and then take a right onto Sumter, you’ll never see it. Problem solved.

  4. Michael Rodgers

    The “having to look at it” comment is really about local control. If the Charleston delgation is the group that really wants to see the flag flying, then why don’t they fly it in Charleston? Why won’t they respect the wishes of our mayor of Columbia who wants it down?

    As Mayor Bob Coble wrote to Brad Warthen almost three years ago

    “The [flying of the] Confederate flag [on Statehouse grounds] represents the antithesis of these efforts [towards economic development and a knowledge economy], and is always the first or second question about what kind of place South Carolina really is.”


    What’s striking is the “always the first or second question.” Ignoring the flag is just not an option.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    Oh, and Walter, some of us like to walk on the State House grounds, including groups of schoolchildren…

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