The Battle Against Symbols Of Slavery Goes On
South Carolina was embroiled in protest yesterday as tens of thousands marched on the holiday commemorating slain civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, to protest the flying of the Confederate flag over the State capitol. Is there a solution? John Howard reports.
While most Americans are too busy making money to wage culture wars, South Carolinians find time to be at loggerheads with each other over a symbol.
Yesterday's demonstrations, estimated at more than 40,000, was the latest in a series of events aimed at removing what many see as a racist symbol flown since 1962 over the seat of government.
Although the demonstrations involved only South Carolina, the matter has spilled over into a national debate over race relations and official symbols.
Many signs said, " Your heritage is my slavery," referring to the argument that the Confederate flag is a heritage memorial to fallen ancestors who served in the Confederate army, and not a symbol of racism and hate, as some argue.
"When they put the water hoses and dogs on our parents and grandparents they always did it under the Confederate flag," said protester Arthea Richardson. "That flag offends the black race and it should come down", she said.
Pro-flag people worry that the anti-flag forces' appetite for culture cleansing will only be whetted by a victory at South Carolina's capitol. They argue that most large southern towns have Confederate monuments and street names, none of which would be safe.
But hold on, let's look at the reason why the Confederate flag was flown over the state capitol in the first place.
I love history and my research tells me that in 1957 Congress called upon the states to commemorate the coming centennial of the Civil War, and in 1960 then-President Eisenhower urged that the commemorations continue for four years.
The flag was raised for that purpose. And it was only supposed to fly during the centennial period. Clearly, it was nothing more than an oversight that the legislation putting it up did not contain a date to take it down.
So, the flag can be removed from the capitol without conceding any imputation of racism and the reasons for the removal cannot be used to attack other commemorations of the Confederacy.
The argument now, is forcing people to choose between preserving a heritage and eliminating racism but that is not the actual issue at hand.
In fact, this flag dispute has lasted longer than the Confederacy - but only the legislators have authority to bring it down.
Meanwhile internet news agency www.Drudge.com is reporting that after criticising George Bush for his silence on the use of the flag in South Carolina, Vice President Al Gore is now refusing to comment on use of symbols of the confederacy in the flag of the President's home state of Arkansas.
"The vice president will not be commenting on the Arkansas flag," a campaign rep told the DRUDGE REPORT.
The Arkansas state flag, which features stars and bars commemorating the confederacy, has, till now anyway, received little media attention.