Finally. The profoundly offensive, pro-slavery Confederate flag no longer flies high in front of the State House grounds in Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina. It was taken down on July 10, 43 years after it was first hoisted in a ceremony “officially” marking the centennial of the start of the U.S. Civil War. In July 2000, a march of more than 50,000, mostly African Americans, demanded that the flag be removed. When state elected officials voted not to remove it, civil rights groups launched a boycott of South Carolina’s tourism industry.
The decisive moment that reignited the struggle to finally remove the flag was the horrific massacre of nine African-American Bible Study members at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17 by Dylan Roof, a white supremacist. One of the nine victims was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator. Pinckney had demanded justice for Walter Scott, a Black man fatally shot eight times in the back by a white cop in North Charleston on April 4.
Roof posted a picture of himself on his website holding a Confederate flag, along with other repulsive racist memorabilia. He targeted this historic, activist church due to its anti-slavery heritage, led by Denmark Vesey, who bought his freedom from slavery in 1799 and was eventually hanged for attempting an armed insurrection against the slavocracy in 1822.
The angry response to the Charleston massacre and the role of the Confederate flag were quite swift and remarkable, not only in South Carolina but around the country. Confederate flags were burned everywhere in the North and South, and Confederate monuments were defaced by Black and white activists, including those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement fighting racist police terror.
Once Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill to take down the flag, an official ceremony was held to mark the occasion. The mainstream media were there en masse. Thousands of people, mainly African American, attended the ceremony. Family members of the nine massacred by Roof were there. Many people cried tears of joy and relief, understandably so after having to endure so many decades of seeing a flag glorifying a barbaric system that forced their enslaved ancestors to suffer under whips and chains.
But many African Americans understand all too well that the removal of the Confederate flag and other related symbols does not signify the end of white supremacy. There still exists the legacy of slavery today in the form of police brutality, low wages, lack of health care, the school-to-prison pipeline, the current rash of Black churches being torched and dire poverty in disproportionate numbers.
Why the ceremony?
Other African Americans, including this writer, asked: Why was a flag glorifying white supremacy given such pomp and circumstance in a ceremony that showed reverence to it? Why was a military honor guard necessary, with only a 21-gun salute missing? Once the flag was meticulously folded, it was sent to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum near the Capitol.
As African-American CNN correspondent and New York Times op-ed writer Charles Blow commented angrily after the ceremony, they could have just taken down the flag in a low-key manner, given everything it represents. This media event turned out to be a photo-op for the governor, who fought for many years against taking down the flag, along with other white politicians.
What shouldn’t get lost is that it was the massive struggle from below, led by the Black community, that forced the removal of the flag. The most dramatic example of this struggle was a young African-American woman activist from North Carolina, Bree Newsome. With the assistance of Black and white comrades, in an act of heroic defiance, Newsome scaled the flagpole on the State House grounds on July 4 and took down the Confederate flag. She and James Tyson, who assisted her from the ground, were arrested. Newsome is facing at least three years in jail, if convicted. More than $125,000 has already been raised for her legal defense. Activists are demanding that ALL charges be dropped against her.
Bree Newsome and others who have been in the forefront of fighting white supremacy should be given the credit for bringing down the flag, not opportunist politicians like Gov. Haley and her ilk. There should have been a ceremony honoring Bree Newsome and others like her, who didn’t wait for the politicians to do what should have been done more than 40 years ago.
Moorehead was born under segregation in Alabama and refused to play the pro-slavery anthem “Dixie” in her high school band in Hampton, Va., during the late 1960s.