Mayor: Rock Hill must reinforce inclusiveness, 'speak out for what is right'

Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols
Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols

With a great deal of divisive discussion in our country, state and community, I believe it’s important for us to pause and reflect on why we should reinforce and embrace inclusiveness as a part of our core values. While we have made much progress in this regard, we still have much to do individually and collectively.

The city of Rock Hill and its citizens have stepped forward in admitting some of the mistakes of the past in order to set the tone for a more hopeful and promising future for our citizens, young and old. Continuing to ask the No.1 question – “Is It Good for the Children?” – is a part of that ongoing process for all ages.

Each January our community comes together to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. A life built on justice for all people regardless of color. This is not a holiday solely for African Americans but an American holiday for all. One that is set aside for all people to honor justice and human rights. It also provides an opportunity to reaffirm Rock Hill and our community slogan as a place where there is “No Room for Racism.”

In 2008 we were fortunate to have civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis at the MLK Breakfast, and we were given a chance to apologize to him for being beaten in a Rock Hill bus station as a Freedom Rider in 1961. To have this opportunity was a great moment for our city.

This led to a Rock Hill citizen, the late Elwin Wilson, asking for forgiveness on national television for having been the one who delivered the blows to Lewis. This was a wonderful and permanent example of acceptance, forgiveness, understanding and reconciliation.

In January 2015 our community again righted a wrong when the convictions of the Friendship Nine were legally vacated. Most recently the Freedom Walkway opened along Main Street and declares the message, “liberty and justice for all.”

These actions help to speak to who we are as a community and acknowledges our core values of inclusiveness and justice. Another example was when our state said enough is enough in regard to the display of the Confederate flag on public grounds and spaces after the killings at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, where the flag was once again vividly used as a symbol of hate. This dictated a bold move by our governor and legislators to move the flag from our statehouse grounds.

I believe this demonstrated the heart and soul of the vast majority of South Carolinians. Citizens may continue to choose to do as they please on private property; however, public property is a different matter.

Recently the newly renovated York County Courthouse has attracted attention because of the removal of the Confederate flag from the courtroom. The courtroom is a sacred place where justice for all is demonstrated and must prevail on a daily basis. Yet we still have those who overlook the divisiveness of this negative symbol and that part of history, reflected by the flag, of a time that represented exclusion, separation and unacceptable treatment of a part of humanity. Hardly a statement for inclusion, acceptance, reconciliation and justice.

With the upcoming South Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans convention at York Technical College, I believe it is once again time for our community to speak out for what is right. While I understand the legal position of York Tech once space has been leased, I am personally supportive of the position of those who protest this event being held on state property.

It is unfortunate that the Sons of Confederate Veterans choose to hold their convention here in our city on public property and force the issue of this divisive symbol once again into our lives. These events we now consider are not issues of race. This particular symbol is unique in that it reflects back to a very dark time in our history, and as Americans it is time we must continue toward a better day.

This matter does not represent the best of who we are as a city, and I stand alongside persons of any color or ethnicity from any region who cherish the words “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”