Guest Column: MLK Day rally continues unnecessary controversy over Confederate flag
By Robert Sinners, First-year public policy graduate student
A couple of weeks ago, many schools and universities were closed in observance of the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. Demonstrations and celebrations took place around the country, all seeking to spread the message of love and to pay homage to the memory of the man who taught people of all backgrounds, creeds and experiences to come together and stand up for justice and equal rights, but most importantly, to understand and respect the ideals of all people. King's speeches stood for the absolute and unconditional love that in 2011, especially on MLK Day, I did not sense in Columbia.
The MLK Day rally at the Statehouse seemed to spread a different message — one of division rather than peace. The South Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sponsored a rally, the purpose of which was not to celebrate the history of the man who preached love, kindness and tolerance but rather to demonstrate the disdain for the Confederate battle flag and its presence on the Statehouse grounds. Not only did the rally stir up further divides, but its demonstrators made it a point to place a box covering the statue of George Washington. They claim there was no offense intended, and they just needed something to support some of the rally signs.
Personally, I'm offended these measures were taken and that the NAACP uses King's holiday to protest the flag. The attention still given to this issue and the demonstrations carried out are a gross deviation from the message that progressive civil rights leaders advocated years ago. These actions reflect the deviated nature of the modern civil rights movement, which has unfortunately led to the creation of a reactive, anti-establishment mentality among followers. In many ways, it has become as closed-minded as the oppressive majority was years ago.
The Confederate flag was removed from the Statehouse dome at the turn of the millennium. It has since flown beside the Confederate monument, which sits at the corner of the Statehouse opposite of the World War II memorial and the African-American history monument. It was removed in a compromise among political representatives, who addressed the concerns of one another in order to better understand opposing groups. Trying to remove a piece of history — my history, not a history of men who hated African-Americans but of men who died to protect their homes — seems disrespectful to that message.
The progress that leaders such as King made years ago has been jaded in an attempt to remove history from the books. In opposition to the needs of other groups, neither side has agreed to compromise. As a result, scholastic, athletic and financial opportunities for South Carolinians still lag; boycotts create missed opportunities and old sentiments delay new relationships from forming. I think as mature, forward-thinking individuals, we should seek to reach out and understand the backgrounds of others. An honest conversation regarding history, concerns and the future should be held, and as those who reject compromise may find, we're not that different after all.