Renewing the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: King Day at the Dome 2003

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Common Dreams

Renewing the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: King Day at the Dome 2003

More than 50,000 people marched and rallied at the first annual King Day at the Dome at the South Carolina State House in 2000. The massive gathering sent a message to South Carolina's power structure that the Confederate battle flag had to be removed from atop our Capitol. Truth spoke to power when so many people paraded in peaceful protest and assembled at our seat of government to challenge the symbol of racial division and appeal for unity and fairness. You could feel the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose message of peace and justice challenged hatred and oppression and drew similar multitudes.

For the first 35 years of my life, I was a devotee of Dixie. I was an aide to Governor George Wallace of Alabama from 1967-1971 and his National Campaign Director (1969-1971). I was such a Dixie diehard that I named my only son Jefferson Davis Turnipseed. Reflecting upon my Rebel past, I know now that I was a racist who used my Confederate heritage and dear ol' Dixie to deny my own racism. My great-grandfather and two of his brothers were Confederate soldiers and my grandfather was a Klan member, but that was no excuse for me to continue to deify Dixie and revere its surviving symbol of racial injustice.

In the 1960s, I saw the Confederate flag waved by racist bigots shouting racial slurs at Wallace rallies throughout the United States as the feisty Alabama Governor railed against civil rights initiatives. Thirty years later, I observed the Confederate flag being waved by Klansmen in videotapes of a Klan rally in South Carolina in 1996 where the Grand Dragon of the Klan exhorted his followers to burn black churches in Clarendon County. By then I perceived the Rebel flag from a totally different perspective as an attorney for the Macedonia Baptist Church congregation who sued the Klan for burning their church. They were awarded $37,000,000.00 in damages by a Clarendon County jury in 1998.

Other than meeting my wife of 40 years and having our wonderful family, I am most thankful for my unconditional change on the issue of racial justice some thirty years ago. I am very appreciative of my African-American friends who have allowed me to develop as much empathy for them as is possible for a person with white skin and its privileges. I am also thankful to friends who planted the seeds of racial enlightenment within me when they spoke the truth to me in both direct and subtle ways during the time I was a racist in denial. It is important to reach out to other unreconstructed Confederates and try to get them to understand how Dixie has been used for so very long to dupe good people unwittingly into repugnant racism.

Trent Lott recently praised Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat Presidential candidacy in1948 and said the country "wouldn't have had all these problems" if Thurmond had been elected. Such a mainstream manifestation of racism demonstrates the need to reach out to unrepentant Rebels and others who may be playing cynical political games with racism and the Rebel flag. The Lott controversy called media attention to the folkways of the Senate Majority Leader's early childhood in Mississippi where poor whites hated the even poorer blacks in the age-old pecking order of traditional Southern poverty.

The Confederate flag was removed from atop the State House to the prominent Confederate soldier's monument in front of our Capitol on July 1, 2000 to comply with a Legislative "compromise". I stood next to an African-American minister friend as the flag was being repositioned. A snaggle-toothed, little white woman waggled her bony finger in my face exclaiming, "Go to hell Tom Turnipseed, you n----r lovin' SOB." Then she turned to my friend and said, "And you n----r , go back to Africa, the flag ain't on top of the State House no more, it's in your face now. I ain't got nothin'. I'm disabled, live in a single-wide, and dropped out of school in the eighth grade, but I've got somethin you ain't got." Holding her little white hand up next to my friend's black hand, she shouted, "I'm white and you are black."

Dr. King recognized that racism has kept poor people with the same socio-economic needs divided over skin color for 400 years. Four months before he was assassinated, he announced his "Poor People's Campaign" to unite the poor and working class people of all races.

Dr. King also said the options for humanity are "non-violence, or non-existence" and "the chain of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the abyss of annihilation". . Join with us in his spirit of peace, justice and unity in Columbia, South Carolina on January 20, 2003 for the King Day at the Dome March and Rally.

Tom Turnipseed

Tom Turnipseed

Tom Turnipseed is an attorney, writer and peace activist in Columbia, SC. His blog is

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