The Confederate flag has finally come down in South Carolina. A few minutes after 10 o'clock this morning, two white honor guard members lowered and removed the flag and handed it to a Black commander, who marched it over to the director of the museum where it belongs. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley stood on the statehouse steps to preside over the ceremony.
It would be difficult not to be moved by such an historic moment, but it cannot be forgotten that it took the massacre of nine Black church members to force the state to come to terms with its ugly racist history. Nor can it be ignored that the hard work of taking down the remaining structures of white supremacy is yet to be done. That is why I, although I am pleased, I am not yet prepared to celebrate.
Speaking at a self-congratulatory bill signing ceremony Thursday afternoon, a smiling Gov. Haley promised to bring down the Confederate flag "with dignity." Even in defeat, the flag of the South's lost cause was honored again, given one last night to fly on the statehouse grounds before it was removed in today's elaborate ceremony.
It was a dignity that was denied to South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, whose body was driven past the treasonous Confederate battle flag to lay in state in the capitol rotunda. Nor was their dignity when a Confederate-flag-loving white supremacist sat through a Bible study class at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last month and gunned down nine African-American worshipers. And, of course, there was no dignity when the South Carolina state government first hoisted the notorious battle flag on the capitol dome in April 1961 in the face of civil rights protesters demanding an end to integration.
The Confederate flag has never represented dignity to Black Americans, and I see no reason why a piece of cloth should have been afforded a luxury never given to South Carolina's own Black citizens. To drape this flag in the misleading cloak of heritage and southern pride perpetuates a history that has consistently valued property over people, or more specifically, that has valued white people's property over black people's lives.
Just ask Leland Summers, a state leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who complained to a reporter that defenders of the Confederate flag were "under attack" recently. "Are you aware that the [Confederate] monument was vandalized?" Summers told the reporter. "Our side, we don’t stoop to those levels," he said. Those levels? In what world is the killing of nine Black people a higher level than vandalizing a lifeless concrete monument?
But this is South Carolina, a state so stubbornly committed to white supremacy, that it refused General George Washington's efforts to save Charleston during the American Revolutionary War. Although South Carolina "could barely raise 200 able-bodied white soldiers," according to one estimate, state leaders threatened to join forces with the British enemies if Washington attempted to enlist Black slaves to fight for America. Those South Carolinians were no patriots.
It was South Carolina where Confederate forces launched the Civil War in April 1861 by firing on Union troops at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. They were certainly not patriots. And it was South Carolina that repeatedly elected segregationist Strom Thurmond, the man who led the U.S. Senate's longest filibuster in history in an unpatriotic effort to deny constitutional rights to Black citizens.
Even following the Charleston massacre, South Carolina only agreed to remove the flag after weeks of delay and days of parliamentary debate. So, pardon me, if I am not yet ready to praise Nikki Haley for her long-awaited conversion.
I'd rather praise Denmark Vesey, who planned the famous 19th century South Carolina slave rebellion from Emanuel AME Church. I'd praise Harriet Tubman, who led a military mission that freed 700 slaves along South Carolina's Combahee River in 1863. I'd praise Bree Newsome, who climbed the flag pole and took down the rebel symbol in a bold act of civil disobedience a few weeks ago. And I'd praise Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who gave his life for the cause of freedom and justice.
Frederick Douglass once wrote that "power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will," he said. Douglass would have warned us that the bulwark of white supremacy would not come down without the work of Vesey and Tubman, Pinckney and Newsome. Their efforts, and the work of thousands of other committed citizens, brought down this flag. They were the true champions who deserve the credit.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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