Not only was the flag not always there; neither was the monument


I say that not to suggest moving the monument. I just want to emphasize that the folks out there muttering darkly about how we’re trying to “erase history” by moving that flag that was put up in 1962 generally don’t know a lot about our postwar history.

I wrote this column to run on July 2, 2000 — one day after the old naval jack was removed from the dome, and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was placed behind the Confederate flag monument.

My purpose in writing it was to let it be known from the very moment of the compromise, that I was not satisfied with it, and saw it as by no means a permanent solution. There was very little appetite for continued debate on the subject at this moment, and I was acutely aware of that. People were flag-weary. But while most folks were celebrating, I wanted to signal that this wasn’t settled, and foreshadow the debate to come…

Here’s the column:


State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, July 2, 2000

Author: BRAD WARTHEN , Editorial Page Editor

An important thing to remember about monuments: They aren’t set in stone.

OK, bad choice of words. They are set in stone, or concrete, or something along those lines. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be modified or moved.

Take, for instance, the Confederate Soldier Monument on the State House grounds. For many of us who wanted the Confederate flag moved off the dome, that was probably the least desirable place of all to put its replacement. Unfortunately, if the flag or one like it was going to fly anywhere, that was probably the most logical location.

Why? Because so many groups that advocated moving the flag said to put it instead in a more historically appropriate setting. And what more appropriate place could there be to put a soldier’s flag than alongside the monument to the soldiers who served under it? It’s just too bad that that monument is in the most visible location on the grounds. There’s nothing we can do about that, is there?

Well, here’s a fun fact to know and tell: The state’s official monument to Confederate soldiers was not always in that location. In fact, that isn’t even the original monument.

I had heard this in the past but just read some confirmation of it this past week, in a column written in 1971 by a former State editor. When I called Charles Wickenberg, who is now retired, to ask where he got his facts, he wasn’t sure after all these years. But the folks at the S.C. Department of Archives and History were able to confirm the story for me. It goes like this:

The original monument, in fact, wasn’t even on the State House grounds. It was initially erected on Arsenal Hill, but a problem developed – it was sitting on quicksand. So it was moved to the top of a hill at the entrance of Elmwood cemetery.

The monument finally made it to the State House grounds in 1879. But it didn’t go where it is now. It was placed instead “near the eastern end of the building, about 60 feet from the front wall and 100 feet from the present site,” Mr. Wickenberg wrote.

But another problem developed: The monument kept getting struck by lightning. “The last stroke” hit on June 22, 1882, and demolished the stone figure.

At this point, if I were one of the folks in charge of this monument, I might have started to wonder about the whole enterprise. But folks back then were made of sterner stuff, and they soldiered on, so to speak.

At this point a new base was obtained, with stirring words inscribed upon it, and “a new statue, chiseled in Italy,” placed at the top. On May 9, 1884, the new monument was unveiled and dedicated in the same location in which we find it today.

So we see that the folks who lived in a time when “the Recent Unpleasantness” was actually recent – and burning in their personal memories – had to try four times before they came up with a way that suited them and their times to honor Confederate sacrifice.

In light of that, why should anyone assume that we’re finished deciding how to remember the Confederacy in our time?

Am I suggesting that we move the monument yet again? Not necessarily. I don’t think anybody’s ready for that battle yet. (Anyway, the Legislature doesn’t meet again until January.)

But I am saying that alternatives to the present arrangement exist. For instance. . . .

Remember the proposal that came up in the heat of the House debate to put the new Army of Northern Virginia battle flag within the context of a group of flags honoring S.C. veterans of other wars? The plan died partly because the details were sketchy and partly because House leaders didn’t want to consider anything new at that point.

Well after the present arrangement was safely passed and signed, that plan was resurrected – in an improved form – by Sen. John Courson, who had already done so much to bring the compromise to fruition over the past six years.

Sen. Courson’s resolution, co-sponsored by the 19 senators who, like him, are military veterans, would create a commission to “design and establish an appropriate monument to be placed on the grounds of the Capitol Complex to recognize and honor the accomplishments of South Carolina veterans who have served honorably, in peace or war, in any of the five branches of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

The monument would consist mainly of the official flags of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Thereby all who served our nation – black and white, from the Revolution to Kosovo – would be honored the same way we are honoring those who served the Confederacy.

The plan leaves site selection to the new commission, but Sen. Courson says there is only one place left on the grounds that could easily accommodate such an addition – the same grassy area where the ANV battle flag was raised on Saturday.

The resolution was filed at the last minute and automatically died at the end of the session. But Sen. Courson introduced it anyway to give lawmakers something to think about between now and next January.

So you see, the present arrangement – with the Confederate banner sticking out so conspicuously by itself in a prominent place – really isn’t set in stone, in the metaphorical sense.

Sen. Courson has presented one viable alternative. There are no doubt others.

I was being generous there suggesting Courson’s idea.

The best proposal to emerge from the debates of that year came from Bob Sheheen — the former speaker, and Vincent’s uncle.

He suggested doing away with the physical, cloth flag altogether, and placing a modest bronze monument somewhere on the grounds to say that the flag once flew here over the dome, and giving some historical perspective.

Unfortunately, that proposal was never really given a chance. The infamous compromise came out of the Senate and then-Speaker David Wilkins allowed only one day — one day — for debate, thereby ensuring that no other proposal would have a chance to catch on and win support. Pressed for time, the House just passed the Senate plan, and moved on.

That day was one of the most frustrating of my professional life. This was before blogging, and The State’s online presence was pretty rudimentary. All day, I kept writing different versions of an editorial based on what was happening in the debate, hoping that Wilkins would allow the debate to continue another day, hoping to have some influence on the outcome — hoping for the chance to push for the Sheheen plan or something like it.

But they pushed on late into the evening, and I had to let the page go without any editorial on the subject, since I didn’t know what the facts would be when readers saw the paper in the morning.

So frustrating. Such a missed opportunity…

19 thoughts on “Not only was the flag not always there; neither was the monument

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Hmmm… perhaps I should have saved this for another day. It’s uncanny the way blog traffic drops off on a Friday — as active as this week has been, at this moment there are only seven people reading the blog, five of them on this post…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s weird how web traffic works.

      When I started blogging 10 years ago, I did so seven days a week. After all, I had more free time on the weekend, so why not?

      But I quickly saw, via the analytics available to me on TypePad, that my weekend posts were largely ignored. So I mostly quit posting on weekends.

      Lately, I think weekend readership has picked up SOME. But mostly, people read blogs while they’re at work.

      Yet Fridays are, if anything, deader than ever….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Part of it may arise from the somewhat less-than-Calvinistic work patterns I noticed when I first came home to South Carolina, in 1987.

        Back in Tennessee and Kansas, where I had worked before, Friday was just another day (assuming I’m remembering accurately). And for newspaper editors, of course, it was the hardest day of the week. Not only did a lot happen on Fridays, but we had to generate most of the copy for the Sunday and Monday papers as well, and even put out a lot of those pages.

        But when I got to South Carolina, I discovered something quickly: Columbia operated on the General Assembly’s schedule (Tuesday through Thursday), and very little was ever done on a Friday. I learned that newsmakers were very difficult to reach on that day (in the days before cell phones), and impossible on Friday afternoons, unless you had the numbers for their lake or beach houses.

        It was a real adjustment for me…

      2. Scout

        Seriously? I am so exactly opposite of that. I have to focus on work at work and only have time to read blogs at night and on the weekends. or summer 🙂

  2. Pat

    I’m watching the live broadcast of the funeral and at the same time texting to a relative explaining the history of the battle flag in SC. Your post is timely for me. In my texting, I shared this photo of the base of the General Daniel Morgan statue in Spartanburg.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, I’ve been busy, and I want to watch the Pinckney funeral, so

    I wish the James Byrnes monument were more central. He’s easily the most worthy cause or person commemorated on the State House grounds, perhaps other than the African American and Law Enforcement and Veterans monuments. It’s a lovely statue of him seated, and it is in a shady nook near the corner of Gervais and Sumter.
    Frankly, the State House grounds could use some fountains, and fewer monuments…

    1. guest

      You mean this Byrnes?

      “Byrnes played a key role in blocking anti-lynching legislation, notably the Castigan-Wagner bill of 1935 and the Gavagan bill of 1937.[11] Byrnes even claimed that lynching was necessary ‘in order to hold in check the Negro in the south’, saying ‘rape is responsible, directly and indirectly, for most of the lynching in America’.[12]”
      — Wikipedia entry on James F. Byrnes

  4. Lynn Teague

    This morning someone very temporarily took the flag down. Full points for passion, determination and climbing ability, but as I see it, it largely misses the point. The process currently underway is above all about the fact that the elected representatives of the people of South Carolina are expected in the next few weeks to vote to take the flag down. After the General Assembly votes, the absence of that symbol will reflect the will of the majority of the people of South Carolina not to continue to display in its seat of government what has undeniably become a symbol of hatred and murder. It is that will of the people of our state that matters above all, not the piece of cloth.

    1. Mark Stewart

      The part that floored me is when the protesters said they didn’t anticipate that the state would install a new flag. Knuckleheads.

      Nonsense like that will set back permanent removal of the flag, not hasten it.

  5. Pat

    So how is this going to play out getting the flag down? Why is it going to take weeks? The legislators have voted to take it up, and, according to reports, have the votes to take it down. I’ve heard them say something about putting it in a place of honor, but I don’t see any reason to legislate that; I’m sure the last flag flown will go to a state museum with documentation.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Pat, this year’s regular legislative session is over. The lawmakers were meeting last week under a sine die resolution that authorized them to come back and finish the budget. A sine die session can ONLY deal with issues set out in the resolution.

      What lawmakers did last week was vote to AMEND the resolution so that, when they were done with the budget, they could come back and take up the flag. That’s what’s happening.

      I’m not sure why they’re not coming back this week, but I think it’s a combination of things — taking off July 4th week, when a lot of people (lawmakers included, I suppose) have arranged to be on family vacations; and allowing time for the funerals of those killed at Emanuel AME. Even among folks who are eager to get the flag down, there is some sentiment that we not deal with this political response until after a decent period of mourning.

      1. Pat

        Thanks for the information. I just know that it can’t wait. It needs a straight up and down vote. I read that the last funeral is Thursday and will be in Columbia.

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