AME church official: Suggested flag swaps on SC Confederate memorial not acceptable

Bonnie Blue flag
Bonnie Blue flag

Replacing the Confederate flag with the South Carolina state flag or another Civil War-period flag at the S.C. State House is not an acceptable compromise to a state leader of a major African-American church.

Two of the three bills introduced in the General Assembly to move the Confederate flag off the Capitol grounds also call for removing the flagpole next to the Confederate soldiers memorial.

But Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, said he will introduce an amendment Monday to keep the flagpole and switch the Confederate flag for the state flag. Flying the state flag is a symbol of how South Carolinians unified in the wake of the murders of nine African-American parishioners at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in what authorities have called a hate crime.

But Rev. Joseph Darby, elder for the Beaufort district of the AME church, said Friday Courson’s plan to swap flags does not change the message to those who see the Confederate icon as a symbol of oppression to African-Americans.

“That’s a blatant insult,” he said. “If you put the state flag out there, to me it’s making a statement that the state of South Carolina is working in same mindset that led to the Civil War. That’s the wrong message to send to America.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, said Friday he plans to offer an amendment to fly the Bonnie Blue flag used by the Confederacy during the Civil War next to the soldiers memorial at the State House. The blue flag with a large white star looks similar to the South Carolina state flag, he said.

Pitts, who said he grew up hearing stories about his great-grandfather and great-uncles fighting in the Civil War, said he supports removing the Confederate battle flag that he knows disturbs his African-American colleagues in the House.

“All I ask in return is to let me honor my great-grandfather and uncles to fly a flag with no racial connotations,” he said.

Darby said he opposes the Bonnie Blue flag plan because it too suggests the state supports the fight to keep slavery 150 years ago.

“If it was part of the Confederacy, it’s still a Confederate flag,” Darby said, “and a Confederate flag should not be in front of the State House.”