Racist thoughts and behavior continue to be rampant in our society. Thankfully, relatively few are carried to the point of hate-filled murders as those committed last week, allegedly by Dylann Roof, at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.
There’s little South Carolina, or other states, can do to eliminate the racism evidenced by such acts, but there’s one thing it can do to eliminate a powerful symbol of its slave holding and segregated past: remove the Confederate flag that waves in front of the state capitol.
South Carolina had special meaning to the Confederacy: it was the first state to secede from the Union, in December 1860, after the election of President Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War started when confederate forces fired on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861.
There has been an historical controversy as to the cause of the Civil War since that great national tragedy began. In his second annual address to Congress on December 1, 1862, President Lincoln said, “Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.” Although he maintained “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery,” Mr. Lincoln knew slavery was the cause of the war.
Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, insisted “We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for Independence.” He and other southern leaders repeatedly invoked the preservation of state sovereignty, independence and natural rights, but they only cited the defense of slavery as their reason, not naming any other action of the central government as a serious grievance.
But slavery is evil. It’s the ultimate degradation of the human spirit and dignity. No economic model can justify slavery. No labor model can justify slavery. No political system can be invoked to defend slavery.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds, for which she is to be commended. That will require a two-thirds vote of the state legislature, however, and political observers say it will be unclear if that decisive affirmation will be obtained.
The governor of Virginia is acting to eliminate the Confederate flag from vehicle license plates.
Mississippi is the only state whose flag includes a depiction of the Confederate flag, and the speaker of the house has called for it to be removed. The governor, however, says the two-to-one vote of the people in 2001 to preserve the symbolism should not be overruled.
As a native Mississippian, I understand the sentiment to honor the memory of our ancestors, many of who fought and died in defense of what they thought to be right. But as the speaker said, “We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us.”
The Confederacy existed to preserve slavery. Every image or lingering vestige of that evil system should be expunged from our society to the end that the full measure of equality and protection of the law become reality for all people.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.