Sunday was meant as a celebration of the grand reopening of the renovated York County Courthouse, but it also became an opportunity for Southern heritage supporters to speak out against what they believe is an attack on their history.
Local attorney Montrio Belton said York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton has reached an agreement to not hang Confederate flags within the main courtroom before a ruling is made by the S.C. attorney general on the matter.
Hamilton had decided to move the Confederate flag and other Civil War memorabilia to a spot other than the main courtroom in the newly renovated courthouse. It was a decision Hamilton said he made believing he had legal authority and authority under state law as clerk to do so. However, Hamilton said Friday that a version of the Confederate flag will be displayed.
Hamilton, a Republican who has been county clerk of court for 21 years, said after his decision was reported, he was contacted by state officials who did a more formal legal review. Hamilton said he was told that removing the items could violate South Carolina’s Heritage Act.
Belton was joined by Councilman William “Bump” Roddey and S.C. Rep. John King Sunday in supporting Hamilton’s original decision to remove the flag from the courtroom.
“I disagree with the interpretation of the act that says the flag cannot be removed,” Belton said. “I do think it is a misrepresentation of the law, however we will respect the decision of the attorney general.”
Belton said that if the attorney general rules the flag must remain in the courthouse, he and other leaders will lobby the Legislature to change the Heritage Act.
We stand with (Hamilton) ... in upholding the original opinion that the Confederate flag does not belong in these courthouses so that everyone who comes into these courthouses will know that they have equal justice under the law.
Jacques Days, Rock Hill NAACP president
Jacques Days, Rock Hill NAACP president, said he also agrees the flag has no place in a courthouse.
“Sometimes there is a difference of legal opinion and sometimes that difference is adjudicated best by being tested in the court system,” he said. “We stand with (Hamilton) ... in upholding the original opinion that the Confederate flag does not belong in these courthouses so that everyone who comes into these courthouses will know that they have equal justice under the law.”
Protestors against the removal of the Confederate flag took to the streets beside the courthouse, carrying flags and banners. Clover resident William Carter said removing the flag is an attack on Southern white heritage.
“They want to tear down everything that deals with Southern white heritage, and I have a problem with that,” he said. “It’s not just about white people, there were also black people involved for the South.”
Carter said the flag’s fate should be decided by a vote from citizens, not politicians.
“This courthouse belongs to all of us,” he said. “It doesn’t belong to Mr. Hamilton or Mayor (Eddie) Lee, it belongs to all of the citizens of York County and we should be the ones to decide how this issue is handled.”
They want to tear down everything that deals with southern white heritage, and I have a problem with that.
William Carter, Clover resident
Roddey posted Saturday afternoon on Facebook, calling the flag a “symbol of hate” and calling for others to stand with them against hanging the flag in the courtroom.
“We are here to show our support for our clerk of court and his decision to not display any Confederate flags inside the courthouse and inside the courtroom until we are able to get a legal decision from the attorney general,” he said. “One way or another we are here standing in unity as we celebrate the opening of this beautiful courthouse downtown in York.”
Belton and other supporters that spoke said that Sunday marked a positive thing for the community.
“We want to celebrate the opening of this courthouse,” he said. “We do not want today to be divisive, as our community is proud of what our taxpayers have been able to accomplish.”
The York County Courthouse will open for business Monday after a $10 million renovation. Kenny Smith with Leitner Construction Company presented Hamilton with the key to the courthouse after the ribbon was cut.
“It’s been wonderful to have an opportunity to restore the gem that stands behind me,” he said. “It never would have happened without team work.”