Andrew Dys

Rock Hill civil rights icons applaud governor’s call to strike the Confederate battle flag

Brother David Boone
Brother David Boone

Like an avalanche, its power now seemingly unstoppable, it appears that the Confederate battle flag will finally disappear from its place of honor on the Statehouse grounds.

It only took 53 years – and, sadly, the deaths of nine black people at the hands of a white gunman who admitted he wanted to start a race war, using that rebel flag so prominently as one of his patches of hate.

The same Confederate flag, a symbol of slavery and hate and racism, that South Carolina has flown for the past 53 years as a public rebuke of blacks and a reminder that white was right.

It also was a show to the rest of America and the world that South Carolina did not give a damn what anybody else thought.

The power of people, black and white, demanding that the flag come down has finally hit even the hardest of heads with the most tin of ears – politicians. Gov. Nikki Haley and so many others finally called for the symbol of hate to come down from the Statehouse grounds Monday.

Simply, Haley and others, mostly Republicans and almost all of them white, finally admitted that the flag has to go. The flag’s history of hate and connection to racists is too strong. Its past of slavery and racial hatred – and now a present of mass murder – is too much for almost any politician to stomach.

Finally.

The Legislature will have to vote, but the result is like a thrown horse race. Only the final length of victory is yet to be determined. Any politician who votes against the flag coming down will go down forever as someone who was plainly clueless – and wrong.

In a law office on Main Street in Rock Hill Monday afternoon, the University of South Carolina’s only black trustee, Leah Moody of Rock Hill, watched Gov. Haley talk on television. Moody’s mother, the late Bessie Moody-Lawrence of Rock Hill, was a state legislator who took heat from many over supporting the 2000 compromise that moved the Confederate battle flag from atop the Statehouse dome to the grounds.

Leah Moody was deputy legal counsel to then-Gov. Jim Hodges in 2000 when the compromise was worked out. In 2015, she said, the governor “got it right.”

“I am very proud of the governor, that she had the courage to do what is right – and to take down the flag is right,” Moody said. “This is the best thing that could happen to South Carolina. And it shows, that the deaths of these people will not be in vain.”

Yet what appears to be the imminent removal of the Confederate battle flag comes at a cost – nine dead in Charleston last week and an American and worldwide shame that the flag was part of the state and the gunman’s shared heritage.

“I applaud the governor, her decision is the right one,” said the Rev. Maurice Harden of Rock Hill’s New Mount Olivet AME Zion Church. “But make no mistake about it, I am troubled that it took the deaths of nine people for this to begin to happen.

“It took blood to be shed – the blood of nine people whose only crime was the color of their skin – for this flag to begin to be removed.”

Harden, senior pastor of one of Rock Hill’s most historic black congregations, which was instrumental in the 1960s civil rights movement, said the flag’s removal is a first step toward true equality for blacks.

For so many civil rights veterans who have fought for decades to bring the flag down, the action is far overdue.

“I watched the governor, and what she said was spectacular because it was true,” said Willie McCleod, a Friendship Nine civil rights icon who was honored at the Statehouse two months ago for going to jail in 1961 – but was angry he had to walk under the Confederate flag to receive that recognition.

“The flag serves no purpose, other than to show the hate of some people. It should have been gone long ago.”

The Friendship Nine were nine Friendship Junior College students arrested after sitting down at a whites-only lunch counter in downtown Rock Hill in 1961. Their “Jail, No Bail” strategy – opting to serve time at hard labor rather than pay a fine and go home – breathed new life into the sit-in movement across the South.

For Mary McCullough, whose late husband Robert McCullough was the organizer of the Friendship Nine, the flag decision comes too late – almost a decade after her husband’s death.

“It is a shame it took this long,” McCullough said. “Robert died while that flag still flew. I have to admit I am surprised that this happened.”

Phyllis Hyatt, 72, who as teenager marched dozens of times for civil rights in Rock Hill, called the flag’s removal “too long coming, but it is time.”

The only thing that could hold back the flag’s coming down for good is political pressure on white politicians who for too long have bowed to those who say that the flag is heritage and not hate. Civil rights protesters, black people, know that the flag is nothing but a symbol of slavery, racism and oppression.

Black people know that the rebel flag was officially raised atop the Statehouse dome in 1962 as a message to the blacks of South Carolina and to the rest of America that South Carolina was white first. Democrats and Republicans joined together then, every one of them white, to show their disdain for equal rights for blacks.

That emboldened hate groups, making racism legitimate to those bigots. Clarence Anderson of Rock Hill was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan when he tried to move into a white neighborhood decades ago. The Klan used the same flag as Dylann Roof, the newest killer of blacks, the same flag that South Carolina has flown.

“That the flag will come down is exciting news,” Anderson said. “It needed to happen.”

Brother David Boone, 82, is a legendary Rock Hill civil rights organizer.

“There is enough support in what some call the white community, white people, to bring this flag down now and forever,” said “I believe it. There is momentum.”

Boone has fought that Confederate flag since coming to Rock Hill in 1959, when he and a few Roman Catholics were the only white voices supporting equal rights for blacks.

Today, he is fighting cancer, but he has lived to see that flag begin to die.

He hopes to live long enough to attend the burial.

He will not shed a tear.

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

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