Will the Flag Come Down in 2000?
BY BRETT BURSEY
The fight over the Confederate flag in South Carolina isn't new. The first demonstrations against the banner were in 1969, when students burned Confederate flags at colleges in Columbia and Orangeburg on the first anniversary of what was known as the Orangeburg Massacre. The tragedy involved three young black students who were killed by police during a protest at a segregated bowling alley in Orangeburg.
Over the next three decades, various groups staged demonstrations and advanced legal challenges. And since the early 1970s black legislators have repeatedly introduced bills to lower the flag.
A white citizens group filed suit in the mid-90s to bring the flag down, followed by a suit led by Columbia Mayor Bob Coble.
In 1997, Gov. David Beasley and the Chamber of Commerce supported the Heritage Act, which sought to move the flag from the dome to the Confederate monument on the State House grounds.
Most recently, the NAACP called in August for economic sanctions against South Carolina until the Confederate flag comes down. Several high-profile groups have supported the NAACP by moving scheduled conferences out of the state.
Until now, there has never been a concerted effort by these diverse groups to work together to get the flag down. That's why the effort being currently organized by a group calling itself United 2000 holds such promise.
"This past January I watched the Martin Luther King story on the Disney channel with my children," Jamie Renda said. "My daughter turned to me with tears in her eyes and asked if all white people were that mean. That's when I decided that I had to do something about the flag."
Renda, a 34-year-old stay-at-home-mom with three kids, is an unlikely leader for the movement to bring the flag down. She votes Republican and has conservative ideals. She has only been in the state for three years.
Renda decided that there must be one big coalition united to get the flag down in 2000, and started making phone calls. She has called people relentlessly, regardless of their race, religion or party.
The first meetings of United 2000 have been a study in diversity. There were fundamentalist preachers who routinely fight with the community activists over women's rights and homosexuality. There were labor activists and Chamber of Commerce sorts who stay at war over workers' rights. There were white liberals and black conservatives viewing each other with suspicion.
Their reasons for wanting the flag to come down ranged from the practical (it's bad for business) to the philosophical (racism is immoral), but they all agreed the group's mission should be to remove the Confederate battle flags from the State House dome and the House and Senate chambers in the year 2000.
Agreeing to not agree on why the flag should come down was the first real test for the group. "The NAACP and the Chamber are still at the table," Renda said. "Not everyone agrees that economic sanctions are a good idea, but we are still united on getting the flag down."
John Asquith got involved after reading an editorial in The State about Renda's efforts. "Warren Bolton wrote that this is one of those times that if good people don't get involved, the cause will be lost," Asquith said. "My conscience would not let me ignore the call."
His recent public stand against the flag has cost him the support of some of his Lexington congregation. Asquith preaches to mostly white working-class believers.
"I have one foot clearly in the world of people who are racist," he said. "One way or the other, they are going to be bitter about the flag. We should get it over with as quickly as possible. United 2000 offers the best way to deal with this problem."
While the group is a work in progress, they have agreed that a petition drive should be part of its campaign. Names of registered voters will be collected this fall and presented to legislators.
"Pro-flag legislators need to see how many voters in their own district want the flag down," Renda said.
"It's going to take a group bigger than any one of us represents to convince the legislature to take down the flag," said AME Bishop John Hurst Adams, leader of the state's third largest denomination and a convener of United 2000. "It's really going to take the people to lead the way."
For more information about United 2000, call 803-865-2073 or e-mail: email@example.com. For copies of the petition, contact the South Carolina Progressive Network by calling 803-808-3384 or by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.