The Whig and last summer’s anti-flag rallies


Jeremy Borden brings to my attention a piece he wrote for a site called The Bitter Southerner. It’s about the role The Whig played in helping get the Confederate flag down.

Basically, the role is this: It was a gathering place — and a fertile one, for those wanting a better South Carolina — for the folks who planned the two anti-flag rallies last summer. That would be Mariangeles Borghini, Emile DeFelice and Tom Hall, pictured above in a photo by Sean Rayford. (And below in a grainy screengrab from video I shot at the first rally.)

That was a natural part to play for a bar located just yards away from the Confederate soldier monument. And this piece was a natural fit for The Bitter Southerner, which apparently has its roots in its creator’s bitterness about Southern bartenders not getting enough respect. No, really.

The piece appealed to me because I appreciate what Mari, Emile and Tom did. And even more because one of the owners and founders of The Whig, Phil Blair, is one of my elder son’s best friends. Remembering his days playing in local punk bands, I marvel at what a pillar-of-the-community successful businessman he’s become. Whenever there’s something going on downtown to advance the community, Phil is there.

It’s a piece with a strong sense of place, and that place is the very heart of our community. You may recall that, just as getting rid of the flag was, for The Whig, about “Neighbors… cleaning up their trashy yard,” Emile saw the banner as bad for his own business, Soda City. As I wrote about Emile in June:

He fantasizes about getting a bunch of Confederate flags, some poles and a few bags of cement, and driving them in a truck to the places of business of some of these lawmakers — their law offices, their insurance agencies and so forth — and planting the flags in front of their businesses and seeing how they like it…

Anyway, you should go read the piece. Excerpts:

In the wake of the murders, Hall and others had gathered mournfully at The Whig that same June week to try to digest the event’s enormity. And to make plans. Hall and two others — Emile DeFelice, Hall’s close friend and fellow South Carolina native, and Mari Borghini, an Argentine immigrant — began to stoke local furor. DeFelice described the trio this way: “Old, rich South Carolina,” he said of Hall. “Old, poor South Carolina,” he said of himself. “And a recent immigrant,” he said of Borghini. “Awesome.”

At The Whig, they planned protests they hoped would pressure the state’s leaders to bring down the flag they viewed as as plague on the statehouse grounds. But their plans had been made with some trepidation.

“Do we go for this now while these people are not even cold dead?” Hall asked. “And we all said yeah. Yeah, I’m grieving I don’t know them; I’ve never been to that church. But that (the Confederate flag) was his (the killer’s) Army, that was his uniform. We’re not waiting and not sitting back.”

As Borghini put it, “Why would they not do something about it?”…

Whig denizens don’t like the word “hipster,” and they’re probably right that the self-righteousness implied doesn’t fit — even if the bar’s detractors detect a whiff of it. The Whig is one of only a few eclectic gathering places in what many complain is Columbia’s often banal college-town existence wrapped in a family and church town’s restrained conservatism.

The bar differs from its stiffer neighbors in more ways than one. The statehouse politics steps away are usually divisive, ugly and superficial. But even many of those bow-tied politicians and operatives sidle up to The Whig’s bar, where the conversation is generally more elevated and congenial….

Phil Blair, the bar’s co-owner who runs it day-to-day, calls it “alcohol philanthropy.” He wants to do more than sling beer and burgers. “I’m from here,” Blair said. “I have that local chip on my shoulder that we’re trying to catch up to other cities around us.”

The Confederate flag on the bar’s front perch was yet another reminder for Blair and others that Columbia hadn’t yet entered the 21st Century.

Those who inhabit The Whig are usually passionate people who rail against the status quo from the sidelines….

rally 2




5 thoughts on “The Whig and last summer’s anti-flag rallies

  1. Doug Ross

    That top photo is really good. There are people who have an eye for framing a photo (Brad is one) that I will never have.

    Too bad we can’t get everyone in the State House to sit down over a few beers and actually get something done.

  2. JesseS

    I knew I wouldn’t get through that mission statement without seeing a Patterson Hood quote.

  3. David Carlton

    Ah, you’ve discovered the Bitter Southerner! I think I first encountered it when they did a piece on my friends Lance and April Ledbetter and their fabulous curatorial record label Dust-to-Digital (if you haven’t seen or heard *Goodbye Babylon,* you must). They’ve also done nice pieces on snake-handling (yes, something else to say), Nashville hot chicken, and my favorite passion, Sacred Harp singing. I warn you, it’s engrossing.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, in case you’d like to recapture the feeling of the first of the rallies Mari, Emile and Tom organized, here’s that short film my son Matt did about it. That’s me on the voiceover:

    This, you may recall, was before we knew Nikki Haley — and a whole lot of other unlikely characters — would come out for taking the flag down. After we knew that, the second rally turned into more of a “stick-to-your-guns” encouragement rally than a protest…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Aaron at rally

      I was looking back at the video, and saw this shot of Aaron Sheinin (the guy with the reporter’s notebook and graying beard, in the checked shirt) in the crowd.

      At one point during the rally, with people calling for the flag to come down NOW, Aaron — formerly of The State, now with the Atlanta paper — and I got to talking about the fact that the very earliest it could possibly come down would be January 2016, when the Legislature returned.

      Then, I said, “Unless, of course, Nikki calls them back into session just to get the flag down…”

      And we chuckled joylessly at such an absurd idea.

      Yeah, journalists tend toward cynicism, but I generally do not. It’s just that in this case, EVERYTHING we had ever seen suggested that that would never happen.

      That’s why it was such a miracle — such a host of miracles — when she did stand, just two days later, with both Democrats and Republicans to call for the Legislature to get the flag down right away. I will always marvel at what happened that day…

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