Over 50,000 Black and white South Carolinans chose to celebrate Martin Luther King day with a demonstration and rally against the continued display of the Confederate battle flag over the state capitol in Columbia.
The turnout, which was the largest civil rights demonstration in the state’s history, surprised both protest organizers and right-wing supporters of the Confederate flag, who the week before had organized a demonstration of only 6000 in the same location.
South Carolina is the last state to fly the Confederate flag above its state capitol. White legislators hoisted the Confederate symbol above the statehouse in 1962 in an act of defiance against the mass civil rights movement then growing in the United States. It has been flying ever since.
A neighboring state, Georgia, likewise retains the Confederate emblem in a portion of its state flag. Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH is threatening to organize a tourist boycott of Georgia until the emblem is removed.
Defenders of the flag have maintained disingenuously that this symbol of slavery is part of their “heritage.” Yet the racist content of much of their rhetoric is quite clear. For example, Arthur Ravenel, a state senator who spoke at the pro-flag rally in Columbia the week before, referred to the NAACP as the “National Association of Retarded People” and then apologized to mentally disabled people for associating them with the NAACP.
At the Martin Luther King day rally, speaker after speaker pointed out that the Confederate flag is an insult to people still suffering from the legacy of slavery.
“We can’t wait, because it symbolizes racism and shame,” said the Rev. Louis Graham of Zion Baptist Church in Columbia. “We can’t wait because the blood of Martin cries out in us now that it ought to come down.”
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume told the crowd, “We have come to the state of South Carolina to say that bigotry, racism, and racist symbols-whether a Confederate flag or burning crosses-will not be allowed to go unchallenged.”
Indeed, with more actions such as this powerful display of opposition to racism, the days the Stars and Bars will fly over South Carolina will be definitely limited.