“Culture carries no privilege to exist. Cultures do not have value simply because they are. Some cultures, the world is better off without.”
― Terry Goodkind
Two years ago today, July 10, 2015, a battle was won in South Carolina. Good defeated evil. Love defeated hate. Acceptance defeated racism. It was another victory, and a big one, but not the end of a war which, sadly, still goes on in the hearts and minds of those determined to prolong it.
The battle won July 10, 2015 began 24 days earlier, with the brutal murders of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in the name of the hopelessly lost and incontrovertibly evil cause of white supremacy. It continued as the state and U.S. flags flying atop the State House dome were lowered to half staff in honor of those lost, but in front of the people’s building, a flag of the Confederacy still flew at the top of its pole.
That flag would not be lowered to half staff. The contrast and the symbolism were clear. While South Carolina and Americans everywhere mourned, the worshipers of white supremacy continued to take pride in their symbol, the symbol carried by the murderer in Charleston and so many others like him.
That contrast, the ongoing presence of that symbol of slavery, had always angered me. It had angered many others too, including those who won an earlier battle to move it from the State House dome to the lawn. This tragedy would be the tipping point. I was a full-time reporter then, and watched as the debate unfolded. I listened with frustration as the counter-arguments came. “It’s our heritage,” they said. “It’s our culture,” they said. “You can’t erase history,” they said.
Is that flag a part of Southern heritage? Certainly. A part of history? Obviously. A part of Southern culture? For some. But look up to the top of this column, to the words of a writer far more talented than I. “Culture” is not always a good thing, nor a thing worth continuing. “Culture” once forbade women from voting and allowed men to abuse them freely. “Culture” once allowed oppression in the name of religion.
I grew up in a world in which “culture” included routinely mocking homosexuals, the mentally challenged, those who are overweight, and many others. I thought it was okay. I thought it was normal. I was a child. I didn’t know better. Still, I was wrong, and I’m grateful that none of that is any part of my culture now.
No, history cannot be erased, nor should it be. However, any rational person understands some parts of history should be celebrated, while others should be remembered as lessons learned. The very existence of the Confederacy was a mistake. The South was the wrong side in that war, on the wrong side of history. The South’s cause was evil. Does that mean every single Confederate was evil? Of course not. They were all, however, on the wrong side.
The Union fought for freedom, and the Union won. That should be celebrated. That’s why there’s one American flag. Only one. That flag stands for freedom, and for the notion that the voices of the people will be heard, and that love will overcome hate. I worked 18-hour days and sometimes more during those 24 days in 2015. Every moment was worth it when, in the early morning hours of July 9, after a debate that was far too long, love won.
Both parties came together. Not every single legislator, but more than enough. Republican voices were the loudest arguing to keep the flag, but many others in the GOP stepped forward to say it had to go. I have never been prouder to live in South Carolina, nor felt more lucky to be a journalist, than when I watched from just a few feet away as Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law the bill which would forever remove that symbol of slavery and hatred from the State House grounds, and when I had a front row spot to see the historic moment two years ago today.
The flag was lowered by state troopers and furled, not folded. Furling is the traditional way to handle the flag of a defeated enemy. The war, as all can see, is not over. There is so much still to be done in the same fight that raged at Gettysburg and at Selma. But that day, we won. It gave, and gives, me hope that we will keep winning until there are no battles left to fight.