Dixie dynamite

Most South Carolinians just wish the Confederate flag flap would go away.

Topics: George W. Bush, Republican Party, John McCain, R-Ariz.,

The South Carolina government has had a simple remedy at its disposal to end the controversy over the Confederate flag flying above its state capitol for years: Remove Old Dixie and place it in memorial on the Statehouse grounds. But it’s taken a boycott by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a hotly contested presidential campaign, intense national media scrutiny and a mob of protesters to get, it appears, the state’s legislators to finally budge.

Gov. Jim Hodges has been meeting with key legislators, and a resolution may be at hand in a matter of weeks, not months, according to a senior staffer. Though 34 of 65 House Republicans vowed early last week not to discuss the flag issue until the boycott is lifted, moderate Republicans are eager for a compromise. The divisive terms of an agreement — like where the flag will be housed and what will happen to other Confederate vestiges such as building and street names in the future — remain unsettled, but major players on both sides of the flag controversy want to bring it to a close.

Why would a state that has flown the Confederate flag for almost 40 years now
suddenly be inclined to take it down? A windfall of negative publicity surrounding the NAACP’s boycott, especially in the national media, is bringing the state — or at least its reputation — to its knees.

“One thing you don’t want is negative publicity,” says Al Parish, an economic forecaster at Charleston Southern University.

And the bad publicity hasn’t been directed exclusively at South Carolina. Leading Republican presidential candidates George W. Bush and John McCain — for whom victory in the South Carolina primary is a crucial electoral strategy — have also taken hits. McCain, famously, waffled last week, calling the flag “offensive” one day and part of the state’s “heritage” the next, and Bush said he wouldn’t fly the flag in Texas, but trusted South Carolinians to make their own decision about it. But the candidates’ overtures to South Carolina Republicans didn’t play well with the rest of the country, where both were hammered by the press.

The flag flap — which has been simmering since 1994 when the state House killed a Senate initiative to remove it — re-emerged in the national consciousness six months ago when the NAACP announced a boycott of the state. Since then, dozens of important state institutions — from city governments to religious organizations to universities — have asked legislators to lower the flag. Even conservative institutions like the Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina Baptist Convention now support a compromise.

And most South Carolinians are following suit. A recent poll conducted by Clemson University political scientist David Woodard found that 67 percent of regular voters like the proposal to move
the Confederate flag to a monument on the Statehouse grounds. Woodard believes
this majority has always existed, even though radicals and reactionaries have driven the debate from the fringes. The difference today, Woodard says, is that moderates who heretofore had no strong feelings about the flag now want it to disappear.

Monday, thousands took to the streets in Columbia for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march to press legislatures to remove the flag, illustrating how deeply the issue has galvanized South Carolina politics.

While most believe South Carolina can escape the NAACP boycott economically unscathed in the short term, the long-term prospects seem bleaker. South Carolina is a state on the move. Its beaches are popular with vacationers from all over the world, and industry is flourishing in the northern part of the state, where Michelin, Honda, Bosch and BMW now operate factories. Business leaders worry that the flag controversy could poison the business environment.

“The typical suburban voter sees this thing as bad for business,” says Bill Moore, a
political scientist at the College of Charleston.

Charleston Southern University’s Parish predicts the boycott itself will not significantly impede the state economy because its impact will be too diffuse. A similar successful boycott of Arizona in 1993 was focused specifically on relocating the Super Bowl (because Arizona did not observe Martin Luther King Day at the time), but the South Carolina boycott urges organizations to hold conventions and meetings in other states. A convention here and a meeting there is not going to
strangle the state’s booming economy.

The only hard statistics available come from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, which estimates the capital city has lost $2.5 million to the boycott. Tourist spots like
Charleston, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach — all popular destinations for conventioneers — have probably lost more.

Hunter Howard, president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, concedes that the
boycott is the main reason the business community is encouraging the state to take the flag down. Howard believes companies who might otherwise set up shop in South Carolina might be scouting locations in other states because of the controversy.

South Carolina has long prided itself on its race relations. There was less resistance to the Civil Rights movement in the state in comparison to the protests and riots that took place in states like Alabama and Mississippi, where governors stood in schoolhouse doors and civil rights workers were killed by police. But in recent years, a string of incidents — black church
burnings and the infamous Redneck Shop in Manning, and now the Confederate
flag rhetoric — have clouded the state’s race record, reconnecting modern day South Carolina to an Old South that most South Carolinians want nothing to do with.

Ironically, it’s the most adamant supporters of the flag who seem to be
doing the most to get it taken down, who in their fervor to preserve Old Dixie have fueled the maelstrom of negative publicity the state has garnered in the national media. A turning point came a week ago, when a crowd at the Republican debate raucously booed MSNBC
anchor Brian Williams for asking George W. Bush if the flag offended him. The crowd had the look of a lynch mob; and Williams actually looked a little rattled. The next day, state Sen. Arthur Ravenel raged against the “National Association of Retarded People.” Every such outburst only serves to
strengthen the resolve of the moderates to salvage South Carolina’s
reputation by removing the flag.

The question now seems to be whether middle-of-the-road flag supporters can
find a way to bring down the flag while still saving face. Jack Bass, professor at the College of Charleston, believes the NAACP is very deliberately not stepping up the boycott, as they had threatened, to give key Republicans room to breathe.

“A clear signal of a developing consensus is that the NAACP did not escalate the boycott,” Bass says. “What that signals is an implicit understanding to give Republican moderates in the
legislature a chance to work themselves into a politically acceptable

But in the end, the flag will come down. And
life in South Carolina will go on. As David Woodard puts it: “It isn’t like you’re trying to redo the tax code. All you’ve got to do is take down a flag.”

Jeremy Derfner is a writing fellow at the American Prospect.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>