Politics & Government

3 years later, Confederate flag casts shadow again over SC State House

Group thumbs noses at SC legislators with annual flag raising

Members of the South Carolina Sucessionist Party raise the Confederate Battle Flag on a temporary pole at the South Carolina State House. When the flag was permanently removed in 2015, the group pledged to raise the flag every year.
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Members of the South Carolina Sucessionist Party raise the Confederate Battle Flag on a temporary pole at the South Carolina State House. When the flag was permanently removed in 2015, the group pledged to raise the flag every year.

Three years after South Carolina removed the Confederate flag with pomp and circumstance from the grounds of the S.C. State House, the flag's shadow fell across the north lawn of the state capitol again Tuesday.

In what has become an annual ritual, about 30 flag supporters stood in the warm morning sun to honor what they consider their heritage, placing the flag back in the place where it stood for 15 years as "Dixie" blared over loudspeakers.

Organized by the S.C. Secessionist Party, the 10 a.m. ceremony marked the third anniversary of the flag's removal from the State House grounds. But, with the passage of time and the anniversary falling on a Tuesday this year, the crowd was smaller than it has been in past years.

"I'd always love to have more people out here," said Wayne Jones, a flag supporter from North Augusta. "But I realize people have jobs."

Jones said it was worth coming to the event and honoring his own great-grandfather, who fought under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, even if the turnout was small.

"People say, 'Why don't you do it on the weekend?' " he said. "But we do it on the sad day that this flag came down."

Those who did attend are committed to the flag's legacy, even after an often emotional fight over its removal in 2015 and the national controversy over Confederate monuments that followed.

Willie McAbee of Greenville said his support of the flag doesn't mean he hates anyone.

"It's about loving where you come from," McAbee said. "As the song says, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything, and I stand for what my ancestors went through."

The event was organized by the S.C. Secessionist Party, a small party that supports South Carolina again leaving the union as it did prior to the Civil War.

It was the third time the party has raised the flag in front of the State House. Each July 10 since the flag was removed, the party has been permitted to put the flag back up in the same spot, near the Confederate soldiers' monument, where it was displayed from 2000 to 2015.

Party chairman James Bessenger said this year's rally was meant to keep the pressure on lawmakers to place on display the flag that was taken down in 2015. That display, at the Confederate Relic Room, was part of the agreement to remove the flag. But, three years later, the flag remains under wraps.

"People have come to expect a lack of integrity from the Legislature, but this is one we expect to hold them to," Bessenger said.

Supporters say the flag was unfairly targeted after nine African-American worshipers were killed at Charleston's historic Emanuel AME by Dylann Roof, a self-declared white supremacist. Within weeks of that shooting, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly to bring down the flag.

The flag had been moved to the Gervais Street site as part of a 2000 compromise that took it down from its former perch, atop the State House dome.

Nearby, Showing Up for Racial Justice group held its own "flag removal celebration" Tuesday as a counter-protest. Protesters held signs challenging the "Lost Cause" narrative that emerged after the Civil War that, they say, underpins support for the flag today.

"The people who believe this represents heritage were taught that in school," said protester Sarah Keeling, also of Columbia. "It's terrible to say they don't know any better, but if that's what they were taught, that's what they believe."

Elsewhere, protester Julie Edwards of Columbia shouted into a bullhorn, trying to disrupt the pro-flag rally and drown out its speakers, sometimes drawing rebukes from speakers on the State House steps.

"This is silly, so I don't feel I need to treat them with any kind of gravitas," Edwards said. "I'm not in the business of making racists comfortable."

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