‘Let them call you a racist’: Confederate flag back at SC Statehouse - July, 2016
For three years in a row, supporters of the Confederate flag rallied at the S.C. State House on the anniversary of its 2015 removal from the capitol grounds.
But this summer, the flag won’t be flying again in front of the State House’s north steps, because someone else has the space booked.
The Columbia group Showing Up for Racial Justice has reserved the north lawn of the State House — facing Gervais Street and including the Confederate soldiers monument — on July 10, the fourth anniversary of the battle flag’s removal from the monument area, permits show.
That precludes any event in support of the flag in that area, something that had become a regular occurrence in recent years. Each year since the Legislature voted to take the flag down, the S.C. Secessionist Party — a group that advocates for South Carolina once again leaving the union — has raised the flag again on a temporary flag pole on the spot where it previously flew.
That didn’t sit well with Sarah Keeling of West Columbia, the founder of the Columbia chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, who turned out with counter-protesters at past Confederate flag rallies. So she used the State House’s permitting system for public events to her advantage
In 2017, on the first day she could apply for a permit to reserve space on the State House grounds for the next year’s anniversary, she waited too long.
“I tried to do it the year before, but I waited until the evening (to send the request) and didn’t get it,” said Keeling, who works at the University of South Carolina. “So last year, at 12:01 a.m., I sent in the request.”
The S.C. Department of Public Safety reviews requests to hold events at the State House for potential public safety concerns, including potential conflicts with other groups. The policy follows dueling rallies between the Ku Klux Klan and a group affiliated with the New Black Panther Party on the capitol grounds in 2015 after the flag was removed.
Even without Showing Up’s attempt to block another flag rally, the Secessionists would not have gathered at the State House again this year, despite past flag-raisings drawing as many as 150 people. James Bessenger, the former chairman of the Secessionist Party, had a falling out with fellow flag supporters earlier this year, and says he didn’t pursue a permit for another flag rally.
“I’ve personally moved on,” Bessenger said. “But I know some people will have issues with (the competing event). I think it’s just as childish as putting the flag back up. It’s a plea for attention.”
Instead of a flag rally, the Showing Up group will hold a lunch on the lawn, inviting people to picnic outside the capitol between tables for several groups, including Simple Justice/Black Lives Matter, Carolina Peace and the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center.
“It’s low-key. We didn’t want to have a party because the reason we’re here is the Emanuel Nine,” Keeling said, referring to nine African Americans who died in a racially-motivated shooting in a Charleston church on June 17, 2015. Their deaths precipitated the Legislature voting to remove the flag in 2015, after previously taking the flag off the State House dome in 2000.
“We just want to take up space, and not let them put it up where it has been in the past,” Keeling said.
David Crockett of Columbia, who does outreach for Simple Justice/Black Lives Matter, said his group’s table will offer information on the push to end cash bail in South Carolina. He said the group’s goal is to engage with anyone who comes out for the day — even if they are Confederate flag supporters.
“I’ve been there before to protest Secessionist events on the grounds that it’s not inclusive of all the people of South Carolina,” Crockett said.
Keeling likewise says she didn’t want her state to be represented by those who still wave the Confederate flag. She said she was protesting another Confederate heritage event last year when she was approached by an out-of-state couple.
“They said, ‘We’re from Ohio. Does this happen every weekend?’” she said. “We show up so people know not everyone agrees with the myth of the wonderful Confederacy.”