Perspectives on South Carolina's Confederate Flag

flag-protest-med-IMG_1158.jpgBill Starr has a South Carolina lineage that predates the Revolution, and ancestors who fought in the Civil War for the Confederate States of America. But he wants the Confederate flag flying on the state capitol grounds in Columbia, SC to come down. Annabel Park of Story of America interviewed him on June 24, 2015 moments after he had waited in line for an hour to pay respects to the murdered Civil Rights leader, Senator, and Reverend Clementa Pinckney where he lay in state in the capitol rotunda. 

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"It’s unbearable to think that a hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, fifty years after the end of legal segregation, that people are still being murdered for the crime of having been the victims of the greatest crime in history, which is what slavery was,” said Starr.

He recounted his Confederate ancestry but explains that they weren’t slave-owners, just poor people drafted “sent to fight for a bunch of rich slave owners to defend the most unjust institution in history, and there is no honor in that, there is nothing to be proud of in that. The 300,000 Confederate soldiers soldiers who died in that war were murdered by slavery just as surely as the millions who died on the plantations.”

The Confederate battle flag was raised over the South Carolina capitol dome in 1962 as a symbol of defiance of the Civil Rights movement. In 2002, a compromise in the state legislature moved the flag to a Confederate war memorial in front of the dome, with the United States flag and the South Carolina state flag replacing the Confederate flag atop the dome.

In the wake of the June 17, 2015 massacre at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, lawmakers including both US Senators and the governor of the state (all Republicans) asked the legislature to vote to remove the flag from state grounds as a symbol of healing, unity and inclusion.

On June 27, 2015, Joshua Lee Gilmer, founder of the Defenders of the Confederate Cross, called for a rally in support of keeping the flag where it is. Like many other Southerners with Confederate ancestry, Gilmer feels that it is unfair and arbitrary to remove the flag from the state capitol grounds in response to the Charleston church massacre.

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We spoke to Annette Halter and two of her children (ages 9 and 14) during the ceremonial lying in state for slain Civil Rights leader, minister, and State Senator Clementa Pinckney about what it is like to raise a family in the era of #BlackLivesMatter after two racially charged incidents in Charleston, South Carolina: the police shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, and the massacre of 9 people including Pinckney at the historic Mother Emmanuel AME Church. The Halters live in Lexington, SC where Dylan Roof, the white supremacist killer of #emanuel9, grew up. 

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John Anthony Miller of Columbia, SC was one of a handful of protestors at a June 24, 2015 rally to encourage South Carolina's state legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds. One week earlier, a white supremacist who used the flag as a symbol for his hatred opened fire in the historic Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, killing nine. One day earlier, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) held a press conference to announce that, in her view, and in that of the state's two Republican U.S. Senators, the time has come for the flag to be moved off of public property. 

Mr. Miller shared with me that he has a great grandfather who fought in the Civil War for the Confederate States of America, and that he also has a great grandfather who fought for the United States. He was gentle, passionate, and, in my view, genuine when he said that his affinity for the Confederate flag has nothing to do with white supremacy or resistance to the Civil Rights movement. He knows this is not true in all cases. For instance, he feels that white supremacy was the intended meaning when lawmakers placed the flag atop the capitol dome in 1962. 

On a boiling hot afternoon, Mr. Miller stood in the sun for many hours, enduring insults from some, and entertaining questions from many. He never lost his composure or raised his voice in anger, and managed to demonstrate as well as articulate a perspective that is inspired by ancestral pride, rather than racial superiority or resentment. 

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