The Confederate Battle Flag: A Controversy Re-ignited…and Resolved?

confederate flag

The Confederate battle flag was flown atop the cupola of the State House from 1962 until 2000.

The Confederate Battle Flag was raised over the South Carolina State House in 1962 to commemorate the centennial of the Civil War. It remained there until 2000, and even with its move to a flagpole near the Confederate memorial, its continued presence on the State House grounds remains a source of division and turmoil.

I remember well Governor David Beasley’s valiant call in 1997 to remove the flag from the Dome. He was supported in that effort by former governors Fritz Hollings, Bob McNair, John West, Jim Edwards, Dick Riley and Carroll Campbell, all SCPC donors. Beasley’s failed initiative contributed to his 1998 re-election defeat by Jim Hodges.

dump beasley, keep the flag

Bumper sticker from the Governor Beasley-era flag crisis

I will never forget the December 1999 news conference in which surviving members of the 1962 General Assembly, led by John West and Bob McNair, petitioned the General Assembly to remove the flag from the Dome. They argued the original intent of the Assembly was simply to commemorate the Civil War and that the flag should have come down afterwards, and that the fact that it did not was an oversight in the drafting of the legislation. Both West and McNair were SCPC donors, as were petitioners Charlie Boineau, the first Republican elected to the General Assembly since Reconstruction, Don Holland, Ryan Shealy and Nick Zeigler. SCPC friends Steve Griffith and Crosby Lewis were also among the group. Showing his dry humor, West proclaimed them “the has-been brigade.”

McNair and West

Robert McNair and John West at West’s 1971 inauguration as governor

Their petition was front page news. And while Gov. Jim Hodges was meeting with members of the then-current Assembly, West declared, “This petition represents a historic event. It is the first time in the history of South Carolina. . . that the former legislative body, after more than a quarter of a century, has petitioned . . . an existing legislative body to correct an oversight or error, remedy a wrong and heal a divisive situation.” George Campsen, Jr., who conceived the petition, said, “Through mere oversight and omission, our resolution regarding the flag did not state when it should come down. We are here today pleading guilty to that omission.”

In 2000, under Governor Hodges, a compromise led to the removal of the flag to the State House grounds beside the Confederate Soldier Monument, a compromise that failed to satisfy the people who argued that moving the flag was an insult to their Confederate ancestors who fought for States’ Rights, the people who felt the flag was a symbol of racism, and all those falling in the spectrum between those two poles.

Confederate soldier monument

Currently, the flag flies from a pole next to the Confederate Soldier Monument in front of the State House.

Now it seems that the flag will move to a place of honor in the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. USC President Harris Pastides supports the move, as did President John Palms, whose three page 1999 statement concluded, “I believe further that I have an obligation to convey to our leaders my personal judgment that flying any flag except our state and national flags above the State House harms this University with which I am so personally engaged.”

On Monday, June 22nd, Governor Nikki Haley made a stirring call to the legislature to act quickly to remove the flag. It was telling that she was surrounded by other leaders including Senators Graham and Scott, Congressmen Jim Clyburn, Tom Rice and Mark Sanford, and State Senator John Courson. It has been a long time coming.

By Herb Hartsook

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