The debate over whether to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the S.C. Statehouse is a sensible response to the massacre of nine black people inside Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. We hope that debate will be civil and reasonable.
Unfortunately, even at this early stage, we are hearing what can only be characterized as hysterical distortion on the issue. State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, likened the effort to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds as a “Stalinist purge.”
Politicians are frequently guilty of hyperbole and overstatement, but Bright’s statement is over the top. He might want to dust off his history books and re-read the accounts of the two-year Soviet purge that began in 1936.
Hundreds of thousands of Russians were accused of political crimes, most of which were trumped up. The prisoners were either quickly executed by shooting or sent to the Gulag labor camps, where they often died of starvation, disease, exposure and overwork.
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Again, we know public officials can come up with batty metaphors, but we hope this is not typical of how the discussion about the flag will proceed.
The massacre at the church prompted many South Carolinians, including Gov. Nikki Haley, to promptly reverse their opinions about the flag and whether it should remain on the grounds of the Statehouse. Haley, who used to brush off suggestions that the flag should be moved, saying the issue had been settled 15 years ago, called Monday for its removal.
She was flanked by a bipartisan group of prominent South Carolina politicians, some of whom also had experienced a change of heart regarding the flag. They have come to the realization that, while some South Carolinians might view the battle flag as a symbol of heritage and bravery, too many others see it, in Haley’s words, as “a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
Dylann Roof, the confessed shooter, wore a patch depicting the battle flag in the hate-filled rants he posted on the Internet where he stated that he hoped to foment a race war. Was the flag responsible for his racist delusions? No, but his use of it is another example of how he and people like him long ago appropriated that symbol for their own midguided purposes.
The flag, raised on the dome of the S.C. Statehouse during the height of the civil rights movement, never had any business being flown in that vaunted location. And it should not fly now on the grounds of the seat of our state government, just a few feet from where the body of S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church and one of Roof’s victims, will lie in state.
Both the S.C. House and Senate agreed Tuesday to debate the change of location of the flag once the final budget is approved during another session later this summer. That is no guarantee that lawmakers will approve the move, but momentum is building, and the proposal at least will have a hearing.
When that happens, we hope the voices of reason prevail and that those who are tempted to resort to emotionalism and exaggeration remain silent. And let’s leave Stalin and his purges out of the discussion.
State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, went too far in comparing the effort to move the battle flag from the Statehouse grounds to a “Stalinist purge.”