Politics & Government

A new group arises to fly the Confederate flag at the SC State House this summer

An event to raise the Confederate flag on the grounds of the S.C. State House will go forward this month after all.

The group Flags Across the South will raise the rebel banner beside the Confederate soldiers’ monument on Saturday, July 13, the group’s chairman says.

Flags Across the South has reserved the north side of the State House grounds throughout the day. Chairman Braxton Spivey of Charleston says the group plans to raise the flag on a temporary flagpole around 9 a.m. and leave the banner flying near the intersection of Gervais and Main streets until the permit expires at 5 p.m.

Spivey said he wanted to raise the flag on July 10, the four-year anniversary of when the Confederate flag was removed from the State House grounds in the aftermath of a racially-motivated shooting in a Charleston church that killed nine people.

But a year ago, the Columbia chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice preemptively reserved the State House grounds that day. The racial justice group will invite residents to hold a picnic on the State House lawn instead.

Spivey said he considered booking time on the lawn that would have allowed the flag to fly from midnight to 6 a.m. on the anniversary itself, but other flag supporters said they preferred to hold the rally on a weekend when more people would be able to attend.

“I’m hellbent on the 10th,” Spivey said. “If Christmas is on a Monday, you don’t celebrate it on the 23rd. But I heard from other people that the weekend is what they wanted to do.”

For the last three years, the flag has returned to the State House when the S.C. Secessionist Party rallied on the anniversary date. But in the past year, the small party that advocates for South Carolina once again leaving the union has splintered. Former party chairman James Bessenger said he left the group after he became concerned the movement was attracting “a bunch of racists and homophobes,” Bessenger told the Charleston Post and Courier.

In February, the group disbanded when it was ordered to pay a multi-million settlement to an African American mother whose two children were photographed by Secessionists holding Confederate flag stickers without her consent.

Bessenger canceled his permit request for another State House rally after the split, but Spivey — a former member of the Secessionist Party who said he owns the temporary flagpole that flew the flag — started a new group to continue the event.

Spivey said he is lining up speakers for the event, and hopes to have an educational component for children.

“We want to preserve the monuments that are still standing,” Spivey said. “I want to get more children involved and teach them the history, as far as what’s happened in this country, and stop trying to erase history. If we learn from it, it may not repeat itself.”

Sarah Keeling, the founder of Columbia’s Showing Up for Racial Justice, said her group will be present to protest the flag event as it has past rallies for the Secessionist Party.

Keeling said she was glad her group’s event had blocked the flag rally from taking place on the anniversary itself, “but I’d feel better if they stopped showing up at all.”

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Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.
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