The Confederate Flag Debate: An Opportunity For Racial Understanding And Reconciliation

Columbia, S.C. --The Confederate Flag debate in South Carolina offers an opportunity for understanding and racial reconciliation that can bridge the great divide of racism in the United States. The Lincoln-Douglas debates ignited the fires of freedom that led to the election of Lincoln as President, the Civil War, and the Emancipation of African-Americans from abject slavery. The Confederate Battle Flag debate is about the continuing symbol of a defeated Dixie, Jim Crow, civil rights defiance, and white supremacy, that flies in sovereignty from atop the South Carolina State House. The flag is being challenged by anti-racist forces led by the NAACP with its economic sanctions.

This focuses the debate on the crux of racism in America-----the historical economic exploitation of African-Americans based on skin color---- and even remedies to right centuries of racial wrongs. Only an empathetic understanding by white folks of the continuing economic oppression suffered by African-Americans from their days of slave labor to contemporary covert corporate color bias, inferior educational opportunity, and income disparity based on color, can lead to real racial reconciliation.

The most frightening aspect to the more moderate folks who say that a "compromise" must be made on the Flag to end the economic sanctions employed by the NAACP which they say must end before a "deal" is made. They call for an end to this "painful" debate while nervously noticing the negotiations for billions of dollars in reparations being awarded by the German government and German corporations to Jews who were "slave laborers" in Nazi Germany and their descendants.

I am a former racist-in-denial who was the National Campaign Director for George Wallace's organization. We used all things Confederate to glorify "Dixie" and mask the slave-owning, racist culture that created that white supremacist state. The Confederate Battle Flag has become emblematic of white supremacy from rebel flag-waving, Nazi Skin Heads in Germany to church burning Klansmen in South Carolina and the Aryan Nation in Idaho.

When I developed an empathy for African-American history, my racist days were over and for the past 25 years, I've worked for racial justice. I am the President of the Center For Democratic Renewal (CAR), (Formerly The National Anti-Klan Network). Julian Bond, National Chairman of the NAACP, and Martin L. King, III, President of SCLC, are members of the board of CAR and are actively involved in economic strategies concerning the Confederate Flag in South Carolina. The South Carolina NAACP originated the economic sanctions and has successfully developed them after they were passed by the national NAACP Convention and its Board of Directors. More than 80 organizations have canceled meetings scheduled in South Carolina.

Honoring the tourism sanctions, the annual convention of the S. C. NAACP was held in Charlotte, North Carolina last month. A three-hour tribute to South Carolinian Nelson Rivers, III, the National Field Director, recognized an outstanding civil rights leader whose passion and pragmatism have propelled him to a national leadership role in the civil rights movement. Corporate executives of Michelin and Advantica made brief presentations of gifts to Nelson and it's interesting because both have been mentioned as prime targets for economic sanctions against their products nationwide. Nelson graciously accepted their gifts after they presented themselves as great believers in the NAACP and civil rights.

Later Nelson mentioned the appropriateness of economic sanctions and that the power of economic choice and sacrifice would finally win the struggle. Nelson said the NAACP would do what it has to do to apply sanctions on a national basis and that he or the NAACP "could not be bought". It was interesting to see big corporate folks pandering and paternalistically "giving gifts" in fear of such sanctions and to observe Nelson's candor and integrity in reply.

Governor Jim Hodges was elected with an overwhelming black voter turnout. Later the media reported he met with flag supporters during the election and promised them he would take no initiatives to bring the flag down. Flag supporters had previously voted overwhelmingly Republican but were disillusioned with Republican Governor David Beasley who made an attempt to remove the flag but was blocked by the Republican House of Representatives. The Democratic Party at each of it's last few State Conventions and at the most recent State Executive Committee meeting in October voted unanimously to work to bring the flag down.

With polls showing an increasing majority of South Carolinians favoring lowering the flag, including powerful organizations like the S.C. Baptist Convention and the State Chamber of Commerce Hodges was chided by Rivers last week to "be a man" and exercise leadership to get the flag down. Increasingly, progressive citizens whose active support is critical for his re-election are concerned about Hodges' reticence. As in the time of Lincoln, it's time for the leadership of vision and courage.

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