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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

South Carolina, it almost had to be you: Yes, the cradle of the Confederacy. A cold-blooded race shooting there should not surprise us, despite protests that elegant Charleston is more enlightened than Columbia — where the young white male shooter comes from.

The state has a sorry place in the history of race. Dead last, actually.

In the wake of a national race tragedy, the Republican governor, Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. One supreme sacrifice. She ducked speaking out on racism. Congrats are in the mail.

Pity the single best week in President Obama’s second term — with the victory on trade in Congress and the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare — is somber, colored with bloodshed. He will have to grapple with words that comfort and clarify when he speaks at the funeral of the slain.

After a murderous rampage that claimed nine lives in a historic black church in Charleston, the nation is shattered, with eyes fixed on the state that started the Civil War. You may think it’s long past, but it was just a minute ago there.

Often Yankees like me listen politely to local lore. Many natives don’t hide their pride, a way of stoking the fire of a lost war’s glory. I for one will no longer accept that narrative. They were on the wrong side of history — their great-great-great granddaddies. Recent Civil War celebrations and a Ken Burns documentary also create a false sense of honor on both sides and causes.

That goes for Virginia and Alabama, too — where governors have responded by get rid of the odious Confederate flag under pressure. Please don’t feel too good about yourselves, governors, the Civil War ended exactly 150 years ago — and the Union won. and Walmart started a retail parade. They aren’t profiles in courage, but it shows crisis brings positive change.

None should think that equals the end of racism. It is only a beginning of a long walk toward racial reconciliation. It is us whites who have the real work to do and lessons to learn. It helps to know the lay of the land. Let’s be clear that not all states are created equal when it comes to race. For some have a proud history. The three states that had the best record on the abolition of slavery were Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Ohio.

But Maryland’s past is not so pretty. It was a slave state, with lynchings recorded into the 20th century.

In South Carolina, the first “post-racial” president will pay his respects and face the burning issue before us: race. Perhaps Obama will touch on the violence on Baltimore’s streets this spring. He will confront black and white in Charleston, where past and present are so tightly braided.

The truth is, memories always echo nearby in a state of mind peculiar to South Carolina. Instead of being incredulous let’s remember Charleston was a busy antebellum slave port. Everything flows from that.

In 1822, a major slave uprising was planned in the same church where the nine murders happened — Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal. Denmark Vesey, a free black carpenter, organized the revolt, betrayed at the last moment. A siege mentality ensued.

Vesey and three dozen co-conspirators were brutally treated and hanged to send a message beyond the city borders. Believe me, that news flew across the nation and spooked the confederacy of Southern white wealthy slaveholders: the “Slave power,” as they were known. They preferred “planters.”

The slave states were a force in Congress — as the old Confederate states are now. South Carolina’s senator, John Calhoun, was the most relentless defender of slavery who developed the “states’ rights” legal strategy. In a dramatic scene that became a catalyst for war, a South Carolina congressman caned a leading abolitionist senator, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, on the floor.

In 1861, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. A badge of — shame or honor. You tell me.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit 

Photo: eyeliam via Flickr

  • harviele

    I think it is time to give the Confederate flag propaganda a rest and focus on the real reasons behind why this young man went into the church and started shooting. This is not the first church shooting and it probably won’t be the last. The fact that he appeared at one time with the confederate battle flag has nothing to do with his motives for doing what he did. He hates America. He burned the American flag. He became a white supremacist. Many white supremacist wave the American flag, carry crosses and wave the Bible. The real story is the political climate in the United States where ordinary white people hate the president of the United States. They are continuously attacking the president with lies and distortions of the truth. Their children are being raised to hate anyone who is different from them. This young man said that he was tired of all the people who just talked hate but didn’t do anything about it but talk. This was bound to happen, Young people are more prone to taking action instead of just talking. This same political climate of hatred is also responsible for the young people going to join ISIS. I have been warning about this for years. People have to be care about how they express their political opinions around their children. People need to turn off the Fox National news if they have children in the room. All it does is spew forth hatred. At the same time, people need to turn off MSNBC if there are children in the room. All it does is feed the hatred. The confederate battle flag was not used by the Army of South Carolina. It was used by Tennessee and Virginia. To the majority of southerners the flag is a symbol of southern pride and has nothing to do with racism. The war was won by the Federal government but the reasons for the war remained and still remain today. The reasons for the war had little to do with freeing the slaves. Lincoln did not issue his executive order until after the war started. The amendment freeing the slaves was not passed until after the war. The most significant result of the Civil war was the 14th Amendment which is still causing problems today with its establishment clause which severely diminished states rights to self governance. Whether this was a good or bad thing is still being determined. We have a nation divided. It is unlikely we will have another civil war but it is possible. Some states are discussing seceding from the Union over states rights today.