Slate is doing its best to keep Confederate flag flying in SC

Josh Voorhees posted this at Slate this morning, under a picture of the Confederate flag flying in front of our State House:

March Madness kicks into full swing today with games in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Spokane. Another four cities—Raleigh, San Antonio, San Diego, and St. Louis—will see men’s action on Friday. The women’s tournament then tips off on Saturday with weekend games spread out over 16 other cities. By the time the NCAA crowns a men’s and women’s champion in Arlington and Nashville, respectively, more than 30 cities will have hosted tournament games. None of those games, however, will be in South Carolina or Mississippi. The reason: The Confederate battle flags that still fly over the state capitol grounds in Columbia and Jackson.

In 2001, the NCAA imposed a ban on either state hosting post-season sporting events at predetermined sites (an important caveat I’ll get to in a second) as long as the flags continued to fly, and neither it nor the states have budged since. That is set to change somewhat next year when a format tweak will allow for a key exception for the women’s tournament. But that change won’t be in place in time to help the Lady Gamecocks, who are currently bearing the brunt of the NCAA post-season boycott of the Palmetto State…

As you and anyone else who’s ever read my stuff knows, I take a backseat to no one in my ardent desire to get that flag down. In fact, starting with my first editorial on the subject in 1994, I almost certainly hold the world record for number of words written with that aim in mind.

But as you probably also know, I think one of the most powerful factors keeping the flag there is the NAACP boycott. It causes a defiant backlash effect among the majority in the Legislature. History, and in our case personal experience, teaches us that the surest way to get a white South Carolinian to do something is to get someone from other parts of the country to try to make him stop doing it. (OK, technically, the NAACP boycott is driven by the South Carolina chapter, which had a lot of pull in the national organization at the time the boycott started — which is why SC is singled out while states like Georgia, which at one point during the life of the boycott even incorporated the symbol into its state flag, escape this censure. But the boycott is under the authority of the national organization, and in SC minds qualifies as out-of-staters trying to tell us what to do.)

And Slate smugly moralizing on the subject — the Tweet promoting this post said, “The (excellent) reason South Carolina and Mississippi don’t get to host March Madness” — only increases the effect. So, way to go there, Josh. Sheesh.

48 thoughts on “Slate is doing its best to keep Confederate flag flying in SC

  1. Doug Ross

    Suppose the NAACP lifted its boycott. What’s the over/under on the number of years before the matter of removing the flag would ever come up again? And what are the odds that it would come down even then?

    The flag isn’t there because of the NAACP boycott. The flag is there because there are too few politicians willing to make it an issue today. Vincent Sheheen as the leader of the Democratic Party wouldn’t touch that topic with a ten foot flag pole. He can’t do the right thing, he has to do the political thing. It’s too bad there isn’t a relatively powerful black mayor of the city where the flag if flying… I bet he could get some traction on the issue. Oh wait, there is a relatively powerful black mayor.

    1. Doug Ross

      And I wonder what would happen if Nikki Haley took this issue up? Would she lose more votes than she would gain? Wouldn’t that force Sheheen’s hand?

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      You’re wrong about Sheheen. Here’s a piece I wrote four years ago about their different stances on the flag.

      If you’ll recall, Nikki rather shamelessly kowtowed to the neoConfederates that time around. So if she changed directions now, it would be pretty dramatic. She holds to the typical GOP attitude that the 2000 compromise is “settled law.”

      You’re also wrong in thinking the boycott doesn’t help keep the flag up. It’s a big reason why even Democrats, much less Republicans, haven’t wanted to spend much political capital on the issue. With the boycott going on, such effort would be doomed. As soon as anyone says “Let’s take down the flag,” they are immediately accused by resentful whites of carrying water for the NAACP in its attempt to harm South Carolina. I know from personal experience.

      1. Doug Ross

        “they are immediately accused by resentful whites of carrying water for the NAACP in its attempt to harm South Carolina. I know from personal experience.”

        Yeah, so? Are you saying you can’t push back on the issue with those people? Are these people willing to debate the issue in public?

        There is no compromise on this issue. Take it down and move on. Doing the same thing for the wrong reason is why South Carolina is where it is.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Sure I push back on those people. But lawmakers do not. And that’s who they listen to.

          And whether the flag flies is entirely up to lawmakers, since they put it in state law that it will fly there.

        1. Doug Ross

          Found the piece… Here’s Sheheen’s position:

          ““I have no predetermined proposal on the flag, but would like to work with legislative leaders, business leaders and community leaders to finally reach consensus. My job as governor will be to bring people together to reach consensus on how best to heal any divisions, including the flag,” he said.

          It is unclear whether Sheheen supports the NAACP’s boycott.”

          So what does “reach consensus” mean? It’s a weasel phrase that doesn’t say anything. It’s lawyer speak. A man of principles would say “I will do everything in my power to remove the flag from the State House during my first year in office”. That’s taking a position.

          Does he or does he not believe the flag should fly in front of the State House? It’s a pretty simple question that a non-politician can answer.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            First, sorry about the link. I have to go back and add links AFTER I write comments, and I forgot that time. It’s there now.

            But you found the right piece.

            And I couldn’t disagree more with you. Consensus is exactly what we need. If one side or the other pushes something through with 50 percent plus one, the battle will never end. Seeking consensus — and not prejudging the issue by specifically endorsing a particular plan ahead of the debate — is wise on Sheheen’s part. It’s more helpful than saying, “Here’s my plan, and it’s the only plan.”

            But the fact is, the Sheheen clan has already come up with what I see as the best approach. During the House’s one-day “debate” on the flag in 2000 (that’s all the time Speaker David Wilkins would allow), ex-Speaker Bob Sheheen (Vincent’s uncle) proposed a plan to have a bronze plaque commemorating that the flag once flew there, and providing historical perspective.

            But Bob’s plan never stood a chance. Wilkins wasn’t going to let anything come to a vote except the Senate “compromise,” even though by that time, the political momentum existed for a much, much better solution than that. That “compromise” would have been a big step forward years earlier, when it was first proposed. Then, it would have been a real compromise between opposing positions. But by 2000, it was what the flag defenders wanted — for them, it was the best-case scenario. And that’s what they got.

          2. Doug Ross

            Consensus results in the worst decision for both sides.

            So is it true that Vincent Sheheen’s personal preference is that the flag be removed from the State House grounds? Will he say that?

            It’s a binary decision – up or down, yes or no, stays or goes. Moving it around on the State House grounds is not a solution.

    3. Steve Edmondson

      I thought there was this ‘compromise’ if the Confederate flag was removed from the dome of the State House. It was removed and placed by the Confederate monument as agreed by all parties. But not good enough, huh? And after the flag, then what? The monument itself? Of course.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Speaking of the monument itself…

        Do you realize that’s its fourth location? The generation that actually experienced the war initially put it blocks away, on Arsenal Hill. Then, they moved it farther away than that, to the entrance of Elmwood Cemetery. Then it was moved to the State House grounds, but in a far less conspicuous spot, off to the side of the State House.

        It was moved to its current location — possibly the most conspicuous spot, politically speaking, in the entire state — in 1884. That’s a lot of movement in two decades. And it’s pretty weird that it’s never moved from that spot since then.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, I’ll dial that back just a bit after sober reflection (and actually reading the whole Slate piece, ahem) — the smug moralizing is pretty much confined to the Tweet that drew me to the piece. To his credit, Josh Voorhees is just documenting the phenomenon. You might even say he sounds a bit sympathetic that the Lady Gamecocks have such a lousy NCAA itinerary, in spite of being a No. 1 seed.

    It was a phenomenon worth making note of, and I appreciate it on that level.

    But the Tweet — which is likely to be lots of people’s first impression of the piece, as it was for me — is harmful….

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    The relatively powerful black mayor has his own agenda, and the flag is so not on it. The black mayor appears to throw sops to the black community only as needed, perhaps to secure a vote or two on council for something on said agenda.

    Besides, I think anything promulgated by Columbia is just about as anathematic to legislators as matters pushed by folks from away.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Only the mayor’s political opponents think he’s “relatively powerful” these days.

      If he’s for it, council is going to slap it down. He is at the nadir of his power.

      1. Doug Ross

        If he pushed through Bull Street and gets the ballpark he wants, I’d say he’s still got some juice.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          He may have passed peak juice, though. Sam Davis is sensitive to constituents’ desires, and a lot them do not appreciate the bullying or the spendthriftiness. Cameron’s got to still be smarting after the public hiding he took, and Brian is not a fan of drama. The other three did not think springing the pledge on them spoke of collegiality.

  4. bud

    Brad, I really think you overthink this issue. Most folks simply consider the issue resolved. As do I.

  5. Michael Rodgers

    No one’s trying to tell us what to do!

    The NCAA isn’t calling up our government daily with demands: Take down the flag or I’ll shoot this dog. It’s a business proposition. The NCAA says it wants to do business with SC but will continue to choose not to so long as we continue to fly the Confederate flag daily at its arguably governing and certainly prominent location.

    That’s all there is, regarding the NCAA. It’s up to us to decide if we want to do business with them and so far we choose no. They’re waiting by the phone, not bossing us around.

    The NAACP isn’t making demands either. They’ve simply told tourists that SC wants you to know that, unlike any other state, SC flies… as I already described … and that you can spend your money wherever you want, every state has something to offer, what SC offers is the Confederate flag, you decide to do whatever you want.

    That’s all there is, regarding the NAACP. It’s up to us if we want to enlist the NAACP to help us promote the kind of tourism we want to promote. They’re waiting by the phone, not bossing us around.

    Characterizing the behavior of the NAACP and the NCAA as coercion or whatever is as inaccurate as it is unhelpful. What are you doing to solve the problem?

    1. Bart


      You are DEAD BANG WRONG!!! The NCAA and NAACP are indeed trying to hold a financial gun to the head of the state of South Carolina and are pushing their agenda. Yet, I know of many events specifically for blacks that are national in nature that are held at local civic centers across the state of South Carolina. A little bit of hypocrisy there maybe? It may be inconvenient for “some” athletic events not to be staged in South Carolina for regional contestants but the same inconvenience is waived for non-athletic events?

      The Beach Ball Classic at Myrtle Beach draws teams from across the nation. It is still held each year and brings in teams from New York, Rhode Island, Florida, and other states. Considering the fact that many of the players will go on to the next level, shouldn’t the NCAA and NAACP protest the event because of a flag flying in a location they don’t like? To prove the point, in 2014, there are (7) NCAA certified events scheduled for South Carolina in basketball. Count’em, 7. If the NCAA was not a semi-dictatorial, for profit organization, it may have some merit but considering the inequities in the organization and less than equitable selection of enforcements and punishments, their actions are reprehensible. Either enforce across the board and deny certification of the events or remove the sanctions against South Carolina.

      If the NCAA boycott was legitimate, the baseball tournaments would not be held in South Carolina and Clemson and South Carolina would have to travel to another state to compete. Excuse my “redneck” expression but the NCAA is full of bullsh!t!!

      This is not a protest, it is a punishment for a compromise that was reached in 2000 and agreed to by both sides although reluctantly. Now, if both sides of the issue in South Carolina could reach an agreement, take the flag down and place it in another location, just what the hell business is it of the NCAA and NAACP at this point and when a publication like Slate “Tweets” about South Carolina, who really gives a damn? In the end, the only thing accomplished is to hurt the local athletes who have to travel to another location to play in their particular sporting event. From what I can recall, the NCAA has never scheduled any significant events in South Carolina during tournament time anyway.

      On a personal note, I would prefer the not be where it is and I believe it should be in the state museum along with other state historical relics. But, whenever an organization tries to intimidate South Carolina or just about any other state with a financial boycott, resistance is inevitable. Maybe the NCAA and NAACP should be the ones picking up the damn phone, they are the hypocrites. South Carolina has not suffered because of the boycott and most likely, never will. And I agree with bud, it is a non-issue that outsiders relish keeping alive.

      1. Doug Ross

        But, Bart, who wins in the boycott? Certainly not South Carolina. The NCAA can take their ball and play anywhere else where there isn’t a Confederate flag flying at the State House. South Carolina has ZERO leverage to reap the benefits that would come from holding larger scale tournaments here. All it would take is one thing to remove that from happening. My guess is that the NCAA would respond quickly to reward that behavior.

        1. Doug Ross

          An NCAA basketball regional (men’s or women’s) in the Colonial Life Area would be worth a lot of money to the local economy. It would happen if the flag came down.

          1. C.W. Roden

            As long as the evil wrong-thinking view that the Southern Cross is a racist symbols continues to be the narrative of the Establishment bigots (NCAA and NAACP) there will be no attempt to even consider that.
            You don’t label everyone who honors their descendants racists, then tell them that you think they should hand over a symbol of their heredity to a bunch of white supremacist false prophets and expect them to simply say “okay” just for a few sports tournaments.
            Asking us to accept being labeled for the sake of “progress” will not result in the desired outcome, that only breeds contempt.

          2. Barry

            The only thing suffering as a result of tbe “Boycott” are NCAA athletic teams that may have to travel to play in a tourney- and most of those players are black- including Dawn Staley- the head coach of USC’s women’s team.

            What other group boycotts South Carolina because of this NAACP boycott?

            Black groups hold events in South Carolina all the time now. They stopped for a year or two when the boycott was first announced- but that quickly faded.

      2. Michael Rodgers

        They cannot punish us no matter how many capital letters you use. They can do business with us or not do business with us. They are not required to do business with us. If someone chooses not to do business with you that’s their choice.

        South Carolina is a state in the United States of America. We do what we want and we can fly the flag if we want to or take it down if we want to. Imagining that the NCAA or the NAACP is in any kind of position to punish or intimidate us is completely and utterly ridiculous. Pretending that those organizations have some power over us or are treating us unfairly, oh boo hoo we’re so weak and the NCAA won’t let us blah blah and the NAACP is picking on us waah waah, is oh my God, ludicrously whiny and pathetic.

        1. Bart


          Are you for freaking real? Did you bother to read my comments and comprehend them beyond the usual Pelosi parrot sitting on a perch, waiting for pearls of wisdom from her in the same manner as “Polly wants a cracker”? My point was that both organizations are TRYING to hold a gun to South Carolina’s head but it is not working worth a damn. SC does not need the approval or disapproval of either and my comments were clear.

          1. Michael Rodgers

            Your point is that the NCAA’s actions are as hypocritical as they are ineffective. As this point is irrelevant, I chose not to address it. I apologize if my not addressing this point made you feel as if I didn’t read what you had to say.

          2. Bart

            You just don’t get it, do you? Not only is the NCAA hypocritical and irrelevant, my other point is that so is the NAACP since neither one has been effective in their boycott attempts. The fact that both have chosen to continue with the farce in the hopes of punishing South Carolina is the point especially since both sporting and black central events where out of state participants attend and support still take place on a regular basis in South Carolina. Your comment that they are waiting by the phone for South Carolina to call and capitulate to their blackmail was just one of the points I was addressing.

            But it is not worth any more of my time to argue the point. If you don’t understand the hypocrisy and ineffectiveness by both organizations’ attempts, you never will.

          3. Michael Rodgers

            I must apologize again, I wrote too quickly. I meant to say “Your point is that the both the NCAA’s and the NAACP’s actions are as hypocritical as they are ineffective.” By neglect, I didn’t include both organizations and I’m sorry.

            Your words punishment, blackmail, capitulate, TRYING to hold a gun to South Carolina’s head, etc. are beyond hyperbole.

            Let’s switch to another example to help calm you down. Remember this story about Amazon, Lexington, and the blue laws? Was Amazon blackmailing Lexington? Attempting to punish Lexington? Trying to holding a financial gun to Lexington’s head? Did Lexington capitulate to blackmail?


        2. Mab

          Michael, the blue laws were rescinded for no reason other than “This is a Christian community, but WE USE EVERYBODY.” As in everybody, 24/7/365.

        3. Mab

          The Confederate flaggers are now defending their CULTURE. Which WILL BE DEFENDED as if it were their nationality. Conscientious objectors be damned.

          Got it?

          E.g. #1, Golden Boy Glenn McConnell presiding over their education.

        1. C.W. Roden

          So do I bud, and instead of offering solutions that would benefit everyone else in the long run the NAACP and NCAA continue to label people and support hatred of Southerners.

  6. Mark Stewart

    That’s great, Bart. I am glad you believe the Confederate battle flag should be removed from the statehouse. What matters – really matters – is for people to share that opinion over and over again as it comes up with one’s friends, family and acquaintances. That is the only way to move the needle on this issue.

    Otherwise, the unreasonable minority get their way. Removing the flag has to gain a sense of inevitability to steamroll the the change over those who cannot for whatever reason see how flying the flag is nothing but a clear expression of dishonor.

  7. Michael Rodgers

    Obviously Slate is not doing its “best” in this regard. Slate could do a lot more either way. Similarly, the NCAA, the NAACP, and others could be doing a lot more. Noting that the NAACP and the NCAA aren’t doing much at all and characterizing what they’re doing as such a huge deal just seems all out of proportion.

  8. Michael Rodgers

    Please people read what Doug wrote and chill with the capital letters. The NAACP and the NCAA get nothing whether SC takes down the flag or not. They are giving their opinion — no, they don’t want to do business with us and no, they don’t recommend SC as a tourist destination — and waiting by the phone in case we change our own situation for ourselves.

    Telling the NAACP and the NCAA your opinion of them may give you some temporary satisfaction but it won’t change their opinion of us; they’ll wait by the phone forever — that is to say they’ll pick up if and when we finally call to do business and ignore us otherwise.

  9. Michael Rodgers

    The flying flag at the Stare House is not some domino that white Southern republicans have to fight to the death to keep upright under the misapprehension that letting it fall will result in cultural genocide of white Southern republicans by the people they think are their enemies.

    How about this as a solution? Take down the flying flag, pole, decorative fence and lights from the State House and simultaneously build and fully fund 5 heritage centers across the state, 1 each in Columbia, Charleston, Rock Hill, Greenville, and Aiken. OK? In your white Southern republican calculation you give up 1 little flying flag to get 5 heritage centers, so you win.

    1. Doug Ross

      As long as there is no flag flying at any of those centers, fine. The flag should not fly over any public building. Inside in a museum, fine.

      The bottom line is that the flag shouldn’t come down because the NAACP or NCAA want it down. It should come down because it is a symbol of a time in South Carolina’s history when the state supported white people OWNING black people. That’s the heritage it represents: People buying and selling other people and treating them as sub-humans. It’s a slap in the face of every black citizen of this state. No amount of spinning the history changes that. Just once it would be nice to see South Carolina act in a way that wasn’t stubbornly stupid.

      1. Barry

        Agree- but the NAACP and the NCAA aren’t going to accomplish anything with the flag.

        It will be solved by the General Assembly when leaders are ready to solve it- not because of the NAACP and their selective outrage (notice how silent they were on the Richland County election mess) – or the NCAA.

        1. Doug Ross

          Which is why the NCAA and NAACP boycotts are a red herring… neither organization has a monopoly on doing things right. I consider the NCAA to be as badly run as any similar government agency – too many rules, too much behavior driven by spending other people’s money. And the NAACP barely registers on the relevance meter…

  10. Bryan Caskey

    Just wondering from a practical standpoint what a whip-count would look like on this issue. You know, if the SC House and Senate took a vote today, what would it look like?

    Remember, to move the flag anywhere at all, you have to have a two-thirds majority in each branch of the legislature.

    Would the vote be close? I have no idea.

    I bet Frank Underwood could get me a whip-count on this. Someone get him on the phone.

    1. Doug Ross

      Hey, why doesn’t The State poll all the individual legislators and ask them to answer one question – “Yes or No: The Confederate Flag should remain at its current location?”

      Rather than just saying “It’s been settled” the issue should be revisited every decade. Just like with gay marriage and pot decriminalization, I think the voices of the younger generation should be heard.

    2. Michael Rodgers

      As you are a lawyer I’m sure you know that past legislators can’t tie the hands of future legislators that way — it would require a constitutional amendment. What that means in reality is that the current legislature can (1) take one vote to try to get 2/3 or (2) take two votes in succession in each case needing only simple majority, where the first vote removes the 2/3 requirement and the second changes the law itself. BTW I was told this by my state legislator-rep.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        You may have a point there. I honestly don’t know if you would need a 2/3 majority or not. Your point seems to make sense, though.

        Is there precedent in South Carolina for something similar where the text of a statute put a limit on how the statute itself could be changed, and then the legislature later ignored that provision? Has an Attorney General issued any sort of advisory opinion about this?

        If it’s the case that the 2/3 majority language is non-binding, wouldn’t the legislature have known that back in 2000 when they passed the law? Or was the legislature just really that dumb?

        I’m not necessarily saying you’re wrong, but I have a hard time believing that the legislature was that stupid. (Ok, maybe not THAT hard of a time.)

        I’ll have to ask some lawyers I know who deal with this kind of stuff and report back.

        1. Michael Rodgers

          The main issue is that the legislators made a power grab back then to stop Coble’s lawsuit and to deny voters the right to vote on the issue. Thus it’s not so much stupid as the best they could do and since it does seem intimidating to the casual observer it’s pretty effective. Also it has the effect of being a procedural hurdle.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Plus, it was good sop to get the gentlemen legislators to go along with the the flag removal from the dome…

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