Bearing witness in the searing noonday sun, and other developments on a busy day

from steps

First, the headline: Lawmakers voted to empower themselves to act on the flag during this special session, once they’re done with the budget. The House approved the amendment to the sine die resolution 103-10, and the Senate passed it by voice vote.

Also, 28 senators have signed on as sponsors of a bill to take down the flag and put it in the Confederate Relic Room. (You know, if we didn’t have a Confederate Relic Room, and I wanted to make up a hypothetical place that would be the perfect place for the flag, I would call it the “Confederate Relic Room.”)

Meanwhile, there was a sort of rally-for-folks-who-missed-the-rally-on-Saturday on the State House grounds as a way of keeping up public support for this historic move.

Tomorrow, Sen. Clementa Pinckney will lie in state in the State House.

Following are some notes from the rally, which I attended for as long as I could stand the heat…

from cap city

The turnout

I hope nobody is going to judge public sentiment on the issue by the turnout at this gathering, because it was apparently sparse by comparison to Saturday. I say “apparently” because it’s difficult to say how many people attended, for several reasons:

Being in the middle of a working day, people came and went. The thing dragged on for hours (unlike the event Saturday, which was about the length of a white-people’s church service), and almost no one was in a position to stay for all of it. I noticed the pattern of people coming and going when I looked back down on the event later from the Capital City Club.

Also, it was difficult to gauge the number of people at any one time because of the way people were distributed.

There were basically four or five groups: First, there were the fortunate ones seated in the shade of two tiny white tents on the lawn, like mourners at a graveside service. Then you had the people standing around the tent and trying to look in and see the speakers, which was tough because if you were standing in the blinding, searing sun, it was hard to see everything going on in the tent, which is where the podium was. It was also hard if you were in the sun to make out the third group, probably larger than the first two put together, that was in the shade of the trees to the east of the tents, maybe fifty feet from the action, listening but not seeing (a lesser, sparser group stood under trees on the west side, near the Ben Tillman monument). Another contingent sat high up on the State House steps, also in the shade.


The flavor

This was different from Saturday in tone and content. As a lot of people noted at the time, the Saturday group was about 90 percent white, organized and attended by (mostly) white people. The speaker roster was slightly more diverse than the crowd. This one today was blacker — although there were a lot of white faces present, perhaps even more than half of the crowd — and at times had a black-church feel, with call-and-response cadence. And while the Saturday event had an eclectic mix of speakers thrown together at the last minute, this event had a steady stream of dignitaries that wanted to say a few words.

tom davis

Tom Davis

There were white speakers as well as white attendees, and one that particularly interested me was Sen. Tom Davis. Tom’s sort of out there on his own, an iconoclastic figure, not someone automatically with this crowd or that one. He’s also known as a filibusterer. So it was good to hear that he was on board with getting the flag down.

I liked one thing Tom said in particular: Some might think that we shouldn’t be moving to act on a political issue in response to the deaths of innocents. He noted that Clementa Pinckney himself helped lead the push for body cameras on police, and that was in response to the last sensational, senseless killing in Charleston, that of Walter Scott.



There was a tiny cluster of counter-protesters at the scene, right around the soldier monument, but they didn’t get much notice. It wasn’t Sons of Conferederate Veterans or League of the South types. These folks were more marginal. So far, we’re not seeing a coherent opposition that might be effective. But this is early; opponents of change are sort of rocked back on their heels — for the moment.


Less cowbell

Standing over near the counter-demonstrators was an older African-American man just maniacally wailing away on a cowbell — CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK. He seemed intent on drowning out the speakers, or something. I asked several people who were there before me whether they knew what he was on about. I didn’t want to ask him; he was furiously intent on his task, looking only at his cowbell, and keeping at it like a perpetual motion machine — CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK.

Standing in that heat, so much more intense than Saturday, I felt like I was getting a fever, and the cure was most assuredly NOT more cowbell.



I kept moving around the tents, trying to get a good angle to see the speakers and maybe get a picture (almost impossible with an iPhone that was in the sun while the subjects were in the shade). For one short period, I was next to this really beatific African-American lady who was standing under a parasol and insisting that I share its shade. With one hand she held the umbrella (declining my offer to hold it for her), while the other was resting gently on the shoulder of a rather scruffy, middle-aged white man.

The white man had a constant scowl on his stubbled face, and every once in awhile he would sputter out something cryptic like “Why don’t you take down the flag at Fort Sumter?” in a tone that made it sound like he didn’t think taking down any flags was a good idea.

Each time he did, the lady would pat his shoulder, speak soothingly to him saying things intended to make him feel welcome and at his ease. And he seemed to calm down each time. At one point, a black man a couple of feet away cried out something defiant-sounding about the flag, and the white guy really got stirred up and started saying something like, “You can’t do that! You can’t! It takes two-thirds of the legislation (sic)! You can’t!”

I really thought for a second they were going to go at it, and we were in the way.

The lady shushed him, pleaded with him to be calm and not get excited, and eventually steered him back out of the press of people. She came back a moment later, but he did not. She was a bit shaken, but trying to stay calm. I asked her whether she knew that man. No, she didn’t. She just saw him as a soul in need of consolation.

31 thoughts on “Bearing witness in the searing noonday sun, and other developments on a busy day

  1. Mark Stewart

    It would have been thoughtful of the legislature to have the flag and pole wrapped in funeral bunting for tomorrow. I didn’t see anywhere that the enacted legislation requires the flown flag to be visible.

    Anyway, that’s the sort of thing most governmental agencies would do when one of their own is killed. Everyone, on both sides, would probably feel better about the flag with bunting hung as a sign of respectful mourning.

    Now, the bright, snapping flag is going to be the lead news angle tomorrow…

  2. Brad Warthen

    Forgot to mention one of my favorite things today.

    A BBC announcer was reporting on action in our Legislature, which is a case of worlds colliding in its own right.

    But my favorite part was when he said that most senators were on board with taking down the flag, but “others demurred.” Hearing him say that phrase in that posh, nonrhotic accent (“uhthuhs demyouwad”), and with reference to SC politics, just made my day.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    I am continually struck by the “beatific” grace demonstrated by our much aggrieved African-American churchfolk.

    1. Brad Warthen

      I’ve always thought the word “soul,” though somewhat diluted by its application to a form of popular music, was an excellent term to describe something that distinguished black Americans.

      It’s a matter of depth…

  4. Lynn Teague

    Your mention of nonrhotic accents brings to mind a classic of anthropological linguistics, Raven McDavid’s study of the absence or presence of the postvocalic r in South Carolina compared with the incidence of lynching in the 25 years before his 1947 study. Some of the comments that have been made about the Mother Emanuel murders are folk versions of McDavid’s conclusions about social patterns and attitudes toward African Americans, especially expressed in the notion that the killer couldn’t have been from Charleston (traditionally nonrhotic, although less so now than in the past). One article presented an especially direct and unflattering assessment of the social history of Lexington County (rhotic). My personal assessment is that socio-linguistic studies are interesting and the folk versions are fascinating in what they tell us about how people see themselves and others, but that some folks are a little too quick to assume that the bad guys must always be “from off.”

      1. Brad Warthen

        I wish sometimes I’d been a linguist, or philologist, or etymologist, or something to do with the study of words.

        Either that, or a movie director…

      2. Lynn Teague

        There was indeed a correlation. Nonrhotic areas had a significantly lower incidence of lynching. McDavid observed that nonrhotic speech also correlated with areas in which plantation slavery was well-established. He associated rhotic speech with poorer less-educated white populations, especially in a broad band along the NC border and in a few isolates — including part of Lexington County. He stated that rhotic speech marked more culturally isolated populations in South Carolina. In the 1970’s he followed up with other articles in which he observed that rhotic speech had become much more the norm in areas that were traditionally heavily nonrhotic, including Charleston. Part of this is surely the influence of radio and then TV, spreading a “standard” American dialect.

        It would be interesting to look at a broader range of variables than McDavid did, for example the frequency of judicially approved executions vs. extrajudicial killings (lynchings). We know that even today the frequency of legal executions is significantly higher for African-Americans than for other groups.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I believe the rhotic boundary is the Congaree River here in the Midlands. The millworkers brought their “r”s down from the Upstate, while the “aristos” in Columbia affected the Lowcountry sounds. The same is true in Aiken, where the mill areas in Horse Creek Valley are noted for their twangy rs while the fancier folk in Aiken eschew them.
      I do not recall whether Edgefield Strom was rhotic. Anybody?

  5. Rose

    Does anyone know who drew that lovely image of the fronds on the palmetto tree turning into doves? I keep seeing it, but I’ve never seen any attribution. It’s on the Blue and White Friday facebook page and it appeared in the State.

    1. Lynn Teague

      I’ve seen it attributed to Gil Shuler of Mt. Pleasant. I believe he is a professional graphic designer.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    An insignificant aside…

    The WashPost today wrote about Eric Bedingfield, a SC House member who also works as an aide to Congressman Mick Mulvaney, and who was one of the “nay” votes yesterday on moving to take down the flag. (I was mystified that the Post regards Mulvaney as a “star congressman.” But whatever. I suppose a prophet hath no honor, etc.)

    Now, I don’t know Eric Bedingfield, but every time I see his name, I’m reminded of a character in Harry Turtledove’s masterpiece of alternative history, The Guns of the South. Billy Beddingfield was a loudmouthed brawler in a North Carolina regiment during the Recent Unpleasantness. As fantastic as the novel’s premise is, Turtledove used the names of real people who belonged to that actual regiment. Beddingfield was one of them. All the author knew about the real Beddingfield was that, according to the historical record, he had achieved noncommissioned rank a number of times, only to be busted down again. So he built the character around that.

    Now, that association in my mind just grew a little stronger…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Now I know another thing about Rep. Bedingfield. He has a blog, and hasn’t posted since January of 2011. So, no use going there to gauge his state of mind at this historic moment…

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      Other than Corley from Aiken (the shame), the other nay-sayers were all from the Upstate. Anderson seems to be a particular stronghold.

    3. Mark Stewart

      I saw the thrice repeated “star” label as a swipe by the Washington Post at Clyborn, Gowdy and, especially, Sanford.

      Reading the article, I think what also made it newsworthy in DC was Mulvaney’s quote that “he employs” Bedingfield. That is a major violation of the Hatch Act. Mulvaney should have said Bedingfield was his deputy chief of staff, but is now employed by his reelection campaign. Federal workers cannot hold partisan office. Big oops from a star congressman.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Mulvaney issued a correction to his comments this morning. So all is right in the Congressman’s office…

  7. John

    The lady you mention in the “Consolation” section of your entry is a hero. It takes real bravery to reach out to a stranger in the crowd like that, particularly when the crowd is emotionally charged.

    I was at the rally from about 1:00-1:20 listening and taking pictures etc. I wish I had seen the cowbell guy!

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I hope there are more like her in the pipeline. Back when I represented juveniles in the mid aughties, the grandmamas were the backbone of the community, and for so many of my clients their grandmamas were the only bright light. Then I started to get grandmamas who also were “getting their lives together” (which I determined to be “on drugs”) and had to look to great-aunts, etc.
      There are some powerful women in the African-American community. Deeply strong.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      If the cowbell guy was gone when you were there, John, he must have worn himself out.

      I hope he didn’t have heatstroke.

      The thing about that heat — I had a lunch meeting at the Capital City Club at noon, where I had dropped off my blazer before venturing across the street to the rally. When I got back up to the Club, all sweaty in my long-sleeved shirt and bow tie, I checked my phone to see how hot it was.

      It only said 88! I couldn’t believe it wasn’t 100. As I look back now, I’m thinking maybe I accidentally called up the weather in some other city, and didn’t notice it. It just HAD to be hotter than that…

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        No, it was indeed that temp, but since there was no actual air, it felt way hotter. I was in shorts and a tank top and was sweltering. One can only imagine how anyone in more clothing felt…

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    Ann Timberlake of the Conservation Voters of SC put out this release yesterday, which I’m just seeing now:

    The General Assembly returned today to adopt the budget and to pass “sine die” resolutions to add new bills to move the Confederate flag from the State House grounds to an historical museum. We are confident that members will vote their conscience when they return.

    We often state that our mission is “to protect the South Carolina we love” and although we tend to visualize our pristine beaches, bays and swamps and rivers, woods and mountain vistas, we care deeply about our communities and neighborhoods, families and friends. We are not lobbying individual Senators and Representatives on this vote, but we do want to commend Governor Nikki Haley for publicly concluding that “this is a moment in which we can say that the flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”

    Protecting South Carolina is about our legacy for future generations, so we thank the Governor for her stand.

  9. David Carlton

    “You know, if we didn’t have a Confederate Relic Room, and I wanted to make up a hypothetical place that would be the perfect place for the flag, I would call it the ‘Confederate Relic Room.’”

    Careful, Brad. As a good Catholic, you’re well aware that one meaning of “relic” is “an object of veneration associated with saints or deities.” The Lost Cause, especially in the late nineteenth century, had many of the trappings of a religious cult, and the mere presence of objects such as Sam Davis’s overcoat caused Tennessee ladies to burst into tears. That’s the reason SC *has* a Relic Room–sponsored by the state government, no less (Though it was founded by the UDC, which still owns the relics) . Its origins have been obscured by the move to the Columbia Mill site and its current description as a museum of military history. But this expat still gets a little queasy at the thought that his native state has an official home for objects of Confederate veneration.

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