Andrew Dys

Charleston massacre, call to drop Confederate flag, spur York cemetery to consider flag ban at monument

A Confederate States of America grave marker at Rose Hill Cemetery in York.
A Confederate States of America grave marker at Rose Hill Cemetery in York. adys@heraldonline.com

Liberty Street is no place for the Confederate battle flag.

“Rose Hill Cemetery is on Liberty Street – a street named for freedom,” Jane Spratt said. “There is no place for the Confederate flag on Liberty Street in York.”

The about-face by many South Carolina political leaders who now want to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds – in the aftermath of last week’s killing of nine black people at a Charleston church by a racist white gunman – is now being felt in York.

One of York County’s most historic cemeteries, which runs along Liberty Street near downtown, will consider a ban on Confederate battle flags that are often placed near the Confederate monument on the cemetery grounds.

Rose Hill Cemetery is privately owned and run by a historical society. It features a large Confederate soldiers memorial right up front. Confederate groups typically place Confederate battle flags up around the monument.

But some in York – most notably Jane Spratt, wife of former Democratic U.S. Rep. John Spratt – asked this week that the flags be removed with the exception of one state holiday, Confederate Memorial Day in May.

John Spratt’s parents are buried at Rose Hill. Both John and Jane Spratt have for decades been proponents of removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, saying it is a divisive symbol that has no place on public property. The gracious response of the victims’ families in Charleston – refusing to hate the racist killer of nine black people who had welcomed the man into their Bible study class – pushed Jane Spratt to ask the committee that runs Rose Hill to ban Confederate flags from the cemetery.

“The flags looked dirty, they were tattered, and really they don’t need to be there,” she said. “Those flags being there upset some people, and I am one of them.”

If the state can get rid of the flag once and for all, Jane Spratt said, then Rose Hill can, too.

John Spratt agreed, and he hopes the Confederate flags near where his parents are buried stay down. The mass killings driven by racial hatred were a “horrible crime,” he said, and the Confederate flag that is a symbol of that hatred has to go.

“The flag needs to be put behind us,” John Spratt said.

John Hiott, chairman of the Rose Hill cemetery board, said he agrees that the Confederate flag should come down from the Statehouse grounds and that cemetery officials already “try to discourage” people from leaving Confederate flags in front of the monument. The board that usually meets once a year has not met or talked about the issue, he said.

When asked if the cemetery should make a permanent change that bans the Confederate flags except on Confederate Memorial Day, Hiott said, “probably so.”

On Tuesday, there were no Confederate flags in front of York’s Rose Hill monument after some had been there as recently as Monday.

Rock Hill’s historic Laurelwood cemetery is owned by the city. It also has a Confederate monument on its grounds, a city spokeswoman said, and no restrictions against flying Confederate flags.

Not all private places are jumping at the chance to consider dropping the Confederate flag.

A pair of Confederate flags bracket the Four Lane Drive bar on U.S. 321 just north of Clover, and a sign for the Sons of the Confederacy that reads “Defend your Southern Heritage” and bearing the rebel flag still stands. And likely, always will.

The bar owner and most patrons declined to talk about the flag Tuesday except to say in general that no politician or government is going to tell them what flag they will fly. Several people claimed that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of slavery and that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.

But freedom means freedom, so the Confederate flags fly outside that bar.

“There are more important issues in this country – homelessness, drugs, illiteracy – than the flag,” said James Pace, a patron of the bar. “And that Confederate flag is freedom of speech.”

Clover’s most famous former Ku Klux Klansman was still flying his Confederate flag on Tuesday. Johnny Ramsey, 82, who spent a weekend in jail in 2012 after refusing to clean up his junky yard, said the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern heritage, not hate.

“I fly mine on account of the heritage of this state,” he said.

Ramsey was convicted decades ago of burning a cross in the yard of York’s police chief, but the conviction was overturned. He has never denied his past Klan membership, but he always has said he was set up by others. Violence like the mass shooting in Charleston is “sick,” he said.

Ramsey has said over the years since denouncing the Klan that racial hatred is wrong.

The killing of nine people in Charleston was a horrible crime, he said, but the person who pulled the trigger – not the Confederate battle flag he proudly waved – is responsible.

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

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