Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What it Means to be Occupied

by Jim Hanks Jr.

On 13 January, 2000, 139 years to the day after South Carolinians opened fire on Fort Sumter, State Senators Arthur Ravenel and Glen McConnell, both of whom had staunchly supported the flag, led the vote to take it down. Just five days before, Senator Ravenel had attended a flag rally, where he had encouraged them to continue their fight. Later, Senator Andre Bauer observed that,, "once McConnell and Ravenel signed up for it, the fight was over." Why did they do it?

Some say that, in McConnell's case, a deal was struck concerning the preservation of the Hunley in Charleston. At the time McConnell reflected that, "the hour has come as it came with General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia." They claimed to be acting as statesmen, compromising for the good of all. They claimed that they were laying the flag issue to rest. South Carolina would be respected and left alone to honour its past as its citizens chose without interference from outside. This was an end run around the flag haters, they boasted. The flag had to come down, but only so far and, through compromise, the stature of the Confederate heritage movement had taken a step forward.

On May 11, 2000, the South Carolina House of Representatives, led by David Wilkins, gave final approval to the bill removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol dome. In preparation for the compromise he had attended a secret meeting with black leaders - held, appropriately enough, at a funeral home. "I didn't tell anybody that I was going," Wilkins said later.

Why did he attend a secret meeting while planning to betray those he was sworn faithfully to serve? Here is what David Wilkins said about his reasoning: “With the Republicans hosting a high-profile presidential primary in 2000, the national media glommed onto the flag as a hot story. The state's reputation took a national beating. Network TV crews set up at the State House, the flag on the dome in their backdrops. The more we hesitated to do something about it, the more we allowed people outside our state to define who we were."

Those are David Wilkins' own words. He did it to impress the Yankee news media. And he did it for the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. No army was threatening us this time, just the Yankee news media's biased, bigoted, pompous, and self-serving opinion. Do you think it mattered to David Wilkins what people in our sister Southern states thought of us?

I am proud of Mississippians for their flag, and congratulate them when I meet one. Did David Wilkins honourably represent the millions of us who love, honour, and support the flag. No. It was the news media people from California and New York he was concerned about. And George Bush, too—he wanted most of all to impress George Bush. How the Yankee news media defined us and what George Bush thought of him mattered more to David Wilkins than how we define ourselves.

What did David Wilkins accomplish? On 9 June, 2005, David Wilkins became the U.S.
Ambassador to Canada after resigning from the South Carolina House of Representatives where he served for 25 years-11 as speaker of the House.

What are we left with? Of the flag "compromise" South Carolina historian, Walter Edgar, opined that, "The legislation passed and South Carolina was able to put behind it a divisive period in its history."

How so? The NAACP continues its boycott of South Carolina, and the NCAA continues its ban on post-season events in South Carolina, a ban that was put into effect after the flag came down. Moreover, in 2004 the NCAA voted to continue the ban, stating that "significant change
had not taken place in South Carolina." On 4 August, 2006, reported that, 'the NCAA will consider expanding its ban of championship events in South Carolina, possibly disallowing baseball and football teams from hosting post-season games, because the Confederate flag is displayed on Statehouse grounds."

That's what we got. Now we know what David Wilkins got. Business as usual in the Empire.

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