Downtown Rock Hill store takes down Confederate flag signs

adys@heraldonline.comJanuary 15, 2013 

— Without shouts or shots or even a raised voice, the owner of a downtown Rock Hill store that had a Confederate flag emblem on his business signs took the signs down.

He did so Monday after a complaint from the Rock Hill NAACP president and in response to my questions about the use of such a symbol that many see as racist in the downtown of a city that claims to have “no room for racism.”

“The problem is what that flag symbolizes; for people of color it is the symbol of slavery and segregation,” NAACP President Melvin Poole told Moments in Time owners Janet and Keith Fields. “That symbol means hatred to people of color.”

Janet Fields said some people have come into the store and said, “Oh, you must be that rebel shop,” but they are quick to tell those customers that they are not a Confederate store but a history store.

The signs were created on the advice of a consultant as a way to bring interest to the store, Keith Fields said, and no complaint had been made since the store opened in the summer.

Until Monday.

“I understand that might offend people,” Keith Fields said. “If that sign is offensive, I’ll take it down right now.”

So Keith Fields walked outside and pulled the sandwich board off the public sidewalk. Then he rolled up the sign that hung over the front door of the shop at 153 E. Main St.

Keith Fields, a historical re-enactor himself, explained that the business appeals mainly to re-enactors, which include Civil War buffs.

I mentioned that what Fields calls the “battle banner” – what is commonly called the “Confederate flag or “rebel flag” – is offensive to so many and is used by white-supremacist and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

“The KKK, they offend us too,” said Janet Fields.

“We won’t even sell the battle banner here,” Keith Fields said.

That same image is not allowed on clothing in most public schools, but such a flag still flies in front of South Carolina’s Statehouse.

It is that flag that came down from atop the Statehouse more than a decade ago that started an NAACP boycott that has cost South Carolina millions of dollars in tourism and sports. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament will not play here because of that boycott.

The selling of Confederate items is not new in South Carolina, and it often brings controversy.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, operated a Charleston-area memorabilia shop for years and dressed up in Confederate garb for an event in 2011 commemorating the 150-year anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

A store called The Redneck Shop in Laurens that sold Confederate flags and KKK robes closed after a court battle brought by the black owners of the building. The store was at times picketed by people who saw the Confederate flag and hate as one and the same.

Moments in Time sells mainly period clothing and collectibles, including many locally made products, Janet Fields said.

The Rock Hill store does have a few items from the Civil War, but Keith Fields said his interest in selling goods is solely in history. The store has had some black customers since it opened, the Fields said.

Sandwich boards along Main Street sidewalks are allowed by the city of Rock Hill and used by several businesses. The zoning code for the city does not address content, city spokeswoman Katie Quinn said.

Attempts to get city officials to explain if the signs bearing an image of the Confederate flag – up since August just a block from City Hall – had been the subject of any discussion were unsuccessful.

Rock Hill has a city-sanctioned slogan posted around town: “A city that has no room for racism.”

The Confederate flag is viewed by many as a symbol of slavery and the past oppression and segregation of blacks, said the Rev. Osbey Roddey, one of two black members of the Rock Hill City Council. It is clear that some people would be offended by any sign with the Confederate flag on it, he said.

“You would think someone would have noticed,” Roddey said, given the city’s push to promote downtown and bring businesses and visitors there.

The store sits just five doors east of where The Friendship Nine were arrested in 1961 after asking for service at a whites-only lunch counter. The protesters went to jail for a month, and the incident re-ignited the American civil rights protests that eventually toppled segregation.

The state historic marker commemorating the courage of the protesters and downtown Rock Hill’s crucial role in civil rights history is just yards from where the Confederate flag emblems for the Moments in Time store were placed.

The store sits just yards west of Freedom Temple Ministries, one of the city’s largest predominantly black churches.

But in a downtown that has an entire Rock Hill city department of people employed to redevelop it and market it and sell it to the world, it took only one complaint the day before the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for the Confederate flag signs to come down.

And on Tuesday, a new sign went up – this one with the American flag on it.

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com