Opinion Extra

Thurmond: Time to come together to remove Confederate flag from SC State House grounds

SC Sen Paul Thurmond, far right, attends Gov Nikki Haley’s new conference calling on legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
SC Sen Paul Thurmond, far right, attends Gov Nikki Haley’s new conference calling on legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. tdominick@thestate.com

Sen. Paul Thurmond, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, opened the Senate’s discussion on Tuesday of the Confederate flag. This column is adapted from his remarks.

I can’t comprehend the hate that was visited upon the Holy City. But I can respond with love and unity and kindness and maybe show others that their motivation for future attacks of hate will not be tolerated, will not result in a race war, will not divide us, but rather will strengthen our resolve to come together as one nation, one state and one community under God.

It is my understanding that the Bible study that Sen. Clementa Pinckney was leading focused on Mark 4:4-8. This passage discusses a farmer who is sowing his seeds for a crop. It describes how some seeds were eaten by birds, and other seeds were put in places where they couldn’t grow due to poor soil or thorns, but still others made it to good soil, and they were able to grow a crop and multiply 30, 60 and hundreds of times.

This passage for me describes our work as public servants. There are times when we have ideas that sprout up quickly, only to realize that we haven’t had enough foundation to grow, and as such, the idea is discarded. There are ideas that special-interest predators fly in and devour. And then sometimes the ground is fertile, and the time is right for there to be growth.

I think the time is right and the ground is fertile for us to make progress as a state to come together and remove the Confederate battle flag from the prominent statue outside the State House and put it in a museum. It is time to acknowledge our past, atone for our sins and work toward a better future. That future must be built on symbols of peace, love and unity. That future cannot be built on symbols of war, hate and divisiveness.

As lawyers, we are taught to see issues from both sides, and so I want to discuss what I perceive to be both sides to make it clear that I have reviewed this position and am not simply reacting. On the one side, some feel that the flag represents oppression and is a constant reminder of the old South and slavery. I understand why many citizens of South Carolina feel that way.

On the other hand, some say that the Confederate battle flag represents the South’s heritage and ancestry. Let’s talk about the heritage aspect. My family has been in South Carolina for many generations. I was told that my great-grandfather was with General Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox. I am aware of my heritage. But my appreciation for the things my forebearers accomplished to make my life better doesn’t mean that I must believe that they always made the right decisions, and for the life of me, I will never understand how anyone could fight a civil war based in part on the desire to continue the practice of slavery. Think about it for just a second: Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves, and continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of that heritage. These practices were inhumane and were wrong, wrong, wrong.

Now we have these hate groups and the symbols they use to remind African-Americans that things haven’t changed and that they are still viewed as less-than-equal human beings. Well, let me tell you, things have changed. Overwhelmingly, people are not being raised to hate or to believe they are superior to others based on the color of their skin. My generation was raised to respect all people of every race, religion and gender.

I have often wondered, what is my purpose here in the Senate? I have asked God to guide me and to strengthen me. I have prayed that I will be able to make a difference for this state. I have prayed that I will leave this place better for the future generations.

I am proud to take a stand and no longer be silent. I am proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the State House. But let it not satisfy us to stop there. Justice by halves is not justice.

We must take down the Confederate battle flag, and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a difficult conversation about healing in our state. I am ready. Let us start the conversation.

Mr. Thurmond is a Charleston Republican; contact him at PThurmond@tktylawfirm.com.