If South Carolina removes the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol, the nine people who were slaughtered in a Charleston, S.C., church last week won’t be resurrected and there can be no guarantee that such a heinous act in the name of bigotry will not happen again.
But removing that flag is still the right thing to do.
And it appears that momentum is at last strong in that direction — even if the process promises to be drawn out and tedious because that’s how most governments get things done.
We are aware of the affinity so many white Southerners have for that flag. But it’s important they understand others see it differently, none more so than blacks, whose ancestors wore the chains and did the work at the wrong end of a whip. History cannot be recast — or even bent sufficiently to uncouple the Confederate flag and slavery, which was and always will be what shattered the Union for those 1,458 dark days.
We aren’t keen on politically correct efforts to rewrite history, and find disappointing what we see too often these days — movements to punish long-dead historical figures who might have been on the wrong side of the issue of slavery even if they blended in nicely during their time. We always caution against using today’s mores to judge the actions of a person from yesteryear. It is a dangerous road, one that would find no end.
The Confederate flag’s place on the grounds of the state Capitol is different. Its connection with slavery should be obvious, but lesser known is that it didn’t fly above the South Carolina Capitol until 1962 — 97 years after the end of this country’s deadliest war — and rose then only as that state’s protest to a civil rights movement that was beginning to gain traction nationally. So its place above the Capitol was an act of defiance against an effort to extend to blacks in this country equal opportunity; after protests, it was moved from above the state Capitol, but remained on the grounds, adjacent to a war monument for the state’s Confederate soldiers.
We were pleased to see Gov. Pat McCrory call for an end to the Confederate flag option on North Carolina license plates. It might surprise some, but twice a year, on May 10, Confederate Memorial Day, and Jan. 19, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday, the Stars and Bars, the Confederate’s first flag, is raised above the North Carolina Capitol building. There have been occasional protests, but nothing with the intensity of what has occurred in South Carolina. Look for that to change.
Several retailers — including Walmart, eBay and Amazon — have announced they will no longer sell items emblazoned with the Confederate flag.
So the snowball is growing, but it cannot be allowed to crush indiscriminately. We anticipate efforts to bury memorials in the South that honor the soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy, and these efforts must be beaten back.
To be clear, we don’t blame the Confederate flag for the atrocity that occurred at the Charleston church anymore than we blame the ease with which guns can be found in this country. We blame the weak-minded individual, Dylann Roof, who was spoon fed Confederate-flag-wrapped hatred that is so easily found, especially in the garbage can that the Internet too often provides.
The double-edged First Amendment guarantees that presence can’t be legislated away, but the signature of a pen can remove South Carolina as a co-conspirator.
Three out of 10 people who live in South Carolina are black. The flying of the Confederate flag over the state Capitol is a blue, white and red reminder that this country once considered their ancestors — and them by extension — no more than chattel.
There is a place for the Confederate flag, and that is in a museum, where it can pay proper tribute to the nearly 300,000 soldiers — about 20,000 of them South Carolinians — who died for a cause that they deeply believed in. There the flag, like those soldiers, can be left alone to reside in peace.