On anniversary of flag removal, supporters want it displayed at Confederate Museum, protesters denounce

Flag supporters. Photos by Emily Mooneyhan. 

Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the Confederate flag’s removal from the S.C. State House grounds. The flag was taken down from a monument in 2015 after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine worshipers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Advocates for the flag gathered in front of the State House, holding Confederate flags of all sizes, wearing garb ranging from T-shirts to Confederate soldier uniforms.

James Bessenger, chairman of the South Carolina Secessionist Party: “We do this every year on the anniversary of the flag’s removal for a couple of different reasons. One, because we don’t feel like the people of South Carolina were given a chance to give their input before the flag was taken down. It was done so quickly after the shooting. Nobody in the legislature went home and talked to any of the constituents. They just did what all the people outside of the state were demanding that they do, and that’s not how legislature is supposed to work.”

Bessenger expressed displeasure that the flag has not yet been displayed in the Confederate Museum.

“That’s really our main purpose. They made a promise to us in legislation they haven’t kept and they didn’t our opinion before casting a vote when they represent us,” he said.

“To me, the flag represents the thousands of Confederate soldiers who gave their life in service to their state. It’s often said they were fighting for slavery or that they were racist. Most of these soldiers were poor dirt farmers,” Bessenger said. “Confederate soldiers weren’t fighting for slavery. Most of them didn’t own slaves. They were fighting because they were told to and that’s what soldiers do.”

Bessenger acknowledged the potential for the two sides to reach a better understanding. “It’s a controversial symbol, but I think if people on both sides took the time to talk to each other and find out exactly what those symbols mean, then we’d have good results,” he said.

Alan Woodall expressed how he felt about the flag’s removal.

Anti-flag protesters.

“I think it’s a good thing. It’s often floated as a symbol of heritage not hate, but that’s extremely misleading when you consider that love for the confederacy is usually tied up with love for their policies, which included continuing slavery,” said Woodall. “They want to say ‘it’s not about slavery, it’s about economics’, but it was the economics of slavery. So, I think it’s important to remind people what the confederacy really stood for and it’s not something that white people or Southerners need to be proud of.”

Attendant Sarah Keeling also offered her viewpoint.

“We’re here because we want people to understand that not everyone in Columbia, and not everyone in South Carolina, supports the Confederate heritage they are here supporting,” she said.

Keeling expressed her excitement for the flag being taken down.  “It never belonged here in the first place. It was put up here in the 60s as a way to thumb their nose at the Civil Rights Movement even though it was supposed to be for the anniversary of the Civil War,” Keeling said. “So I was happy that it came down and I am disgusted that they come and bring it and put it back up every year.”

Keeling added that the flag should have never been flown in South Carolina the first place.  “To me, it represents white supremacy and not letting it go,” she said.

Categories: Columbia, Politics, Richland County