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BLACK AND WHITE SOUTH CAROLINIANS SHOULD UNITE ON FLAG ISSUE | 1999-10-02

When President Clinton gives a speech, look to his right. There is a flag there. It is the flag of the President of the United States. In the District of Columbia, it is not just the president who has his own flag.

Each AGENCY has its own flag. When I worked for the Office of Personnel Management, the flag of OPM flew right below the United States flag.

In South Carolina, we are told that only SOVEREIGN flags are allowed on flagpoles. But in the very city which represents True Righteousness to Confederate flag opponents, mere AGENCIES have their own standards right out there on the flagpole.

There is only the US flag and the agency flag on the OPM flagpole. Though OPM is in Washington, DC, there is no DC flag. Why? For the same reason there are no state flags on the flagpoles of Federal buildings in South Carolina. The buildings don't belong to the STATE. They are FEDERAL buildings. So why should they have state flags flying over them?

In Washington, DC, you have a Federal flag and an OPM flag. The flagpole says, "This building belongs to the United States Government, Office of Personnel Management." The South Carolina capitol building has a Federal flag and a state flag. The message is, "This building belongs to the United States Government, Division of South Carolina."

For those who support such a statement, there is obviously no room for any flags which express any special state identity. South Carolina is a division of the government in Washington. Period.

Recently the United States Supreme Court shocked everybody by announcing that the states actually have an existence separate from that of the Federal Government. The Columbia, SC, State newspaper, which is fanatically against the Confederate flag flying from the State House dome, had a cartoon showing a Confederate flag flying from the flagpole over the United States Supreme Court!

Why would a newspaper which says that a Confederate flag flying from the State House flagpole has no meaning turn right around and show one on the Supreme Court flagpole?

Obviously, because the Confederate flag HAS a meaning. It means STATE sovereignty. It means the opposite of "United States Government, Department of South Carolina."

For those who believe that the only purpose of a flag over the State House is to say, "United States Government, Department of South Carolina," there is room there for only one real flag, the FEDERAL flag. You only have a state flag below it to show which department of the Federal Government this building happens to belong to.

For the rest of us, the banners over the State House should show who WE are. And by "we," I do not mean the Federal Government. I mean that the purpose of flags on the dome of the South Carolina capitol building is to say who SOUTH CAROLINIANS are.

What heresy!

The latest South Carolina Patriot quoted state representative Robert Ford's statement that he no longer opposes the Confederate flag. Mr. Ford is a black man and an old-time liberal who worked with Martin Luther King. He now accepts the Confederate flag because WHITES see it as representing OUR white tradition in this state. He asks that the Black Liberation Flag be added, to represent the BLACK experience in our state. If we are going to quote statements of Mr. Ford of which we approve, we owe it to him to take a position on the issue that is so important to him.

I am a proud white man and a right winger, but I wrote a tribute to Stokeley Carmichael in these pages some time back (See June 26, "Stokeley Carmichael, RIP"). His politics were repugnant to me, but I was eulogizing the man, not his politics. For those of us who support the Confederate flag as a statement of our identity, the question is whether the black experience should also be represented. That is the only question we must answer.

What the symbol is is not our problem. What symbol black South Carolinians choose is their business, not mine. If we are asking black people to forget some of the uglier things that the Confederate flag flew over, then we should show the same flexibility. All we should demand is that the symbol chosen be picked by black South Carolinians.

There have been some attacks specifically on the Black Liberation Flag for what it is supposed to symbolize. That makes no difference to me. As a nationalist, I believe that black people should choose the symbol of the black experience. What they choose is none of my business. The sponsor of the Liberation Flag is Robert Ford, a black South Carolinian who was elected to represent black South Carolinians. That is what I am looking for.

Robert Ford is a representative elected by black South Carolinians. He shows the kind of courage I would be proud to be aligned with. As a black representative in South Carolina, Mr. Ford is in an excellent position to suck up to the fat cats. The big money group loves to have endorsements from genuine black leaders, and they are willing to pay for it. Ford gave all that up for the cause he supports. Mr. Ford is now one of the people whose contributor list the NAACP is looking into. There are already strong rumors of attempts by liberals to unseat Ford in the next election.

Contrast Ford's courage to the absolute wimpishness of South Carolina's so-called leaders on the right. When national Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce wanted the Confederate flag down, Governor Beasley switched sides. Every single statewide Republican leader lined up with him. I'll take Ford as my ally, thank you.

Lastly, what Mr. Ford wants represents something politics often ignores: the simple TRUTH.

In sober fact, the unique history of South Carolina would be represented by the Confederate flag and a flag to represent the black experience. That is who we are. That is the basis of South Carolina history. That is where we came from. The real history of the South is tied up in two landmark books, "Gone With the Wind" and "Roots."

Carol Rowan, a columnist who is black and very liberal, pointed out that, next to American blacks, the group that has gotten the rawest deal in the last century of this country were the Southern whites.

There are two titanic, almost unbearably bitter experiences that are at the basis of our Southern history. They are absolutely Southern. They are absolutely and exclusively American.

It is true that both these historical backgrounds are tragic. But it is also true that real history tends toward the tragic. These experiences made us what we are.

It would be my pleasure to be allied with blacks who are also proud of their heritage. I am proud of my own tradition, and I would like to be an ally of others who are. I believe in this kind of pride, and I am willing to put my money where my mouth is and support the Black Liberation Flag.

It is time to tell the world what the real history and tragedy of the Southern experience has been, all of it, black and white. We can do that if we stand together with black South Carolinians whom we respect. And if we stand together, both of our groups, nobody can ever tear our flags down.