by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
(A version of this article ran in the April 2002 edition of CounterPunch magazine.)
For the last 53 years, the state of South Carolina has flown the Confederate flag above the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia, a noxious emblem of the state government’s unremitting animus toward civil rights laws and desegregation.
The flag was hoisted in 1962 as a show of defiance against the Supreme Court and the Civil Rights movement. It soon became a war banner for the segregationist minions marshaled behind Strom Thurmond’s Southern Manifesto. The flag has remained a shameful glorification of the ante-bellum, slave-holding South and a daily blight for South Carolina’s black population ever since.
Recall that South Carolina was not only the ignition point for the Civil War, but the Wal-Mart of the slave trade. Many of the black Africans brought to South Carolina as slaves for the plantation owners were sent into the swampy rice fields, which proved to be malarial death camps, where people perished in nearly unimaginable numbers. Nearly two-thirds of the black children in the rice plantations perished before reaching the age of sixteen.
Black Africans who weren’t forced into the rice and cotton fields of South Carolina (the Carolina planters exhibited a peculiar preference for blacks from Senegambia and present-day Ghana) were sold in Charleston’s slave market to plantation owners from across the South. These brokers of human beings ended up making millions and enjoying seats as legislators in the statehouse, where they drafted laws to protect their “property.” When people talk about the flag as a proud symbol of the state’s heritage that’s the inescapable and horrific background.
For the past few of years, the NAACP and local civic rights organizers, including CounterPunch writer Kevin Alexander Gray (click here to read Gray’s bracing history of the battle over the flag), have led a campaign to compel the removal of the flag from atop the capitol building and have it entombed in a display case in a nearby museum, which houses artifacts from what is quaintly referred to in Carolina as “the war between the states”.
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