Sunday, June 21, 2015

South Carolina's State House Should Remove A Couple Of Statues, Too

The presence of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina State House has come under more scrutiny recently. It took a gunman entering the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and killing nine people to reignite the conversation about what the flag represents and why it might be time for it to come down.

The renewed call to get rid of the Stars and Bars at the state legislature in South Carolina has been motivated largely by the fact that the shooter was clearly racist and seems to have a bit of a love affair with the flag. His car had a specialty "Confederate States of America" plate, showing a couple of flags from a pretend nation which no real country ever recognized. It also turns out that he had a white supremacist website with pictures like this one:

Nice garden, asshole. (Source)

All of this has resulted in a lot of pressure on South Carolina to reconsider why it needs to fly the Confederate battle flag at the seat of state government, especially when it winds up flying at full staff while the American and South Carolina flags are lowered in recognition of the tragedy. Even if it's not flying over the capitol dome  like it once did, it's tough to defend the display at the capitol as "heritage" or some such crap after the actions of people like Jorts McBowlcut. Not that presidential candidate Lindsey Graham doesn't try.

While one legislator in South Carolina has already vowed to pursue the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds altogether, it's important to note that the State House grounds have some other celebratory markers to horrible racists. They should really come down as well. 

Feel free to keep the monuments to the veterans and the fallen police officers and the founder of gynecology (yes, there is one). But it would really be nice if the South Carolina State House got rid of...

The statue of Benjamin Tillman

With a scowl like that, how can you not love him? (Source)

Even people who are prominent enough to be memorialized in bronze have their flaws. Take Wade Hampton III, a Civil War general, South Carolina governor, and U.S. senator honored with a monument on the capitol grounds. He held white supremacist views, but he was moderate enough to support equal protection under the law for freed slaves. Or James F. Byrnes, who also has a statue outside the State House; he supported segregation, but he also fought the Ku Klux Klan. 

Benjamin Tillman was just a terrible man in general. One of the more notable atrocities of "Pitchfork Ben" took place when he was part of an anti-black militia. This group carried out an event known as the "Hamburg Massacre," in which five blacks were executed. Tillman later bragged about how such murders had saved the state from the "rule of the alien, the traitor, and the semi-barbarous Negroes." 

There was that time he helped write a new draft of the state constitution for the express purpose of disenfranchising black voters. As governor, he was instrumental in bringing about several Jim Crow laws meant to skirt the Fifteenth Amendment. He served in the Senate, where he was censured after getting into a fistfight with the other senator from South Carolina. He warned that the black man "must remain subordinate or be exterminated." When President Theodore Roosevelt hosted Booker T. Washington at the White House, Tillman complained that, "The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again."

The shooting in Charleston has drawn little attention to Benjamin Tillman's statue, aside from this article in the Huffington Post. There's been an ongoing effort to get rid of his statue at, however.

Strom Thurmond's statue

Yes, the Strom Thurmond. His monument is placed in about as prominent a place as you can get outside the South Carolina State House.

To be fair, Thurmond served honorably in World War II (at the battle of Normandy, no less). And he was praised for his response to the lynching of Willie Earle in 1947, namely his demand in no uncertain terms that the perpetrators should be brought to justice. This didn't exactly happen, since all 31 men arrested in the crime were acquitted despite such pesky evidence as their signed confessions, but it got the message across; no more lynchings took place in South Carolina after Earle.

So do the bright spots on Thurmond's record make up for the blemishes? Not really.

Thurmond's most notable accomplishment during the many, many years he spent in Congress was a record filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He rambled on for a full 24 hours and 18 minutes, probably pissing in a bag as he went, all to oppose a bill that would let black citizens register to vote in federal elections.

Before that, Thurmond ran for President as a third party candidate against Harry Truman in 1948, because he was upset that Truman had supported such shocking things as eliminating the poll tax and banning segregation in interstate commerce. Though Thurmond knew he was unlikely to carry a majority, he and his ilk figured they could throw off the balance enough to send the election to the House of Representatives and force the candidates to abandon the civil rights platform to win Southern support. He carried South Carolina and three other states (it probably helped that those states left Truman off the ballot) but didn't sway the election enough to deter Truman's win.

Thurmond also had a big part in drafting the "Southern Manifesto," which mainly served to whine about how Brown v. Board of Education was a result of "outside meddlers" trying to disrupt a South that was getting along just swimmingly when it came to blacks and whites getting along. Excluding the lynchings and poll taxes and whatnot, none of which made it into the manifesto of course. He ranted about how the civil rights movement was dominated by Communists. Interviewed in 1998, he said he didn't have "anything to apologize for" when it came to his central role in the Dixiecrat movement.

He was also quite the hypocrite. For all his effort to deny equal rights to black citizens, it turned out that he had fathered a child with his 16-year-old black maid and never once acknowledged her existence in his career. Thus the less than subtle revision to update the inscription on Thurmond's statue.

The Confederate battle flag

The Confederate battle flag used to fly over the capitol dome itself in South Carolina, below the U.S. and state flags, as a reminder that South Carolina spearheaded the hissy fit segregation effort that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people because they wanted the constitutional right to enslave other people. I'm not sure that's the best legacy to celebrate.

The flag was moved to its current location, over a memorial to fallen Confederate soldiers, as part of the controversy in 2000 over the more prominent placement over the dome. This decision also led to the creation of the African-American Monument, a new display on the State House grounds to recognize the accomplishments of black people in South Carolina.

The argument that always comes up in support of displaying the Confederate battle flag is that it's a sign of Southern pride and not a symbol of hate. Some people probably do fly the flag intending it to be a way of showing their love for the South, not as an affront to black people or Northern folks or the federal government or anything like that. There are also the more strained arguments that it doesn't matter because the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery anyway, or that it's OK because sometimes a black guy flies the flag (usually it seems to be H.K. Edgerton), or that a handful of black soldiers fought for the Confederacy, or that you shouldn't get all worked up about the battle flag because it's not really the true Confederate flag

The Washington Post and The Atlantic have both done a nice job of deflating the tired old arguments about how the Confederate flag is just a harmless symbol of Southern love. The Post talked to a race historian about its meaning. The Atlantic followed up on a 2012 article with a more recent piece arguing for the flag's removal. One of the main points in all of these articles is how the flag became a show of defiance during the civil rights movement, waved as a clear sign of protest.

It's pretty easy to see.

Here's motel owner James Brock raising the Confederate battle flag over his business back in 1964. Activists conducted a "swim-in" there to protest the motel's policy that the pool was open to whites only. Brock responded by pouring acid into the water.

Some civil rights marchers in 1966. The girl is waving the Stars and Bars and the boy is reportedly playing "Dixie." I'm sure the marchers were just delighted by such a reception.

Here's some more folks who don't like the idea of black people marching for voting rights. The guy at the bottom left suddenly realized how he's going to look in 50 years and doesn't appreciate that his bigotry is being recorded for posterity.

Members of the Organization For Better Government march outside the Alabama State House in 1965, promising "larger white marches" in the future. They stopped within 25 feet of voter registration rallies, probably just to tell the black citizens expressing their constitutional rights about this cool new grits recipe they came up with. Hey, it's all about heritage, right?

These marchers seem to be protesting how Alabama isn't all that fair to them. The guy waving the Confederate battle flag is probably just saying he likes how Birmingham is a big industrial center or something. Heritage.

That's the Ku Klux Klan. They like this flag a lot.

And him, well, that's Jorts McBowlcut again. You already know about him.

The revival of the Confederate battle flag is a result of a bunch of scumbags who felt threatened by a race they didn't like who had the temerity to demand that they not be treated like second-class citizens. It got its start from some states who wanted to make sure they had the right to keep certain folk from being citizens at all.

So to any South Carolina folks reading this, go ahead and fly the Confederate battle flag at your home or from your car or whatever. You have the right to look like a fool. Your government shouldn't have to.