FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Set This Flag on Fire!

by Jeffrey St. Clair

For the last 50 years, the state of South Carolina has flown the Confederate flag above the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia, a noxious emblem of the state government’s unremitting animus toward civil rights laws and desegregation.

The flag was hoisted in 1962 as a show of defiance against the Supreme Court and the Civil Rights movement. It soon became a war banner for the segregationist minions marshaled behind Strom Thurmond’s Southern Manifesto. The flag has remained a shameful glorification of the ante-bellum, slave-holding South and a daily blight for South Carolina’s black population ever since.

Recall that South Carolina was not only the ignition point for the Civil War, but the Wal-Mart of the slave trade. Many of the black Africans brought to South Carolina as slaves for the plantation owners were sent into the swampy rice fields, which proved to be malarial death camps, where people perished in nearly unimaginable numbers. Nearly two-thirds of the black children in the rice plantations perished before reaching the age of sixteen.

Black Africans who weren’t forced into the rice and cotton fields of South Carolina (the Carolina planters exhibited a peculiar preference for blacks from Senegambia and present-day Ghana) were sold in Charleston’s slave market to plantation owners from across the South. These brokers of human beings ended up making millions and enjoying seats as legislators in the statehouse, where they drafted laws to protect their “property.” When people talk about the flag as a proud symbol of the state’s heritage that’s the inescapable and horrific background.

For the past couple of years, the NAACP and local civic rights organizers, including CounterPunch writer Kevin Alexander Gray (click here to read Gray’s bracing history of the battle over the flag), have led a campaign to get the flag removed from atop the capitol building and entombed in a display case in a nearby museum, which houses artifacts from what is quaintly referred to in Carolina as “the war between the states”.

When first broached, the demand was met with derision by state leaders and threats of violence from local yahoos. Then the civil rights groups launched a nationwide tourism boycott of the South Carolina. This was no minor threat. Since the NAFTA-driven collapse of the garment industry, tourism (which consists largely of the ceaseless promotion of the Southern plantation lifestyle) has become the mainstay of the state’s frail economy. Soon millions were being lost and businesses (which once not so long ago proudly catered only to whites by law and now do so largely based on pricing) started carping to legislators about what could be done to deal with the noisome boycott.

Ultimately, a so-called compromise plan was brokered by Democrats in the state legislature and the flag migrated from atop the capitol dome to a prominent flagpole on the statehouse grounds, where it flies above statues of Confederate soldiers and generals and other monuments to slavery and the enforcers of racial segregation. Naturally, this satisfied few in the civil rights community and the NAACP boycott remains in place.

Last week, black activist and brick mason Emmett Rufus Eddy decided that he had had enough of this ongoing insult and did something about it. Eddy had tried to pull the flag down on three previous occasions. Even though a restraining order barred him from stepping foot on the grounds of the Statehouse, this time Eddy would succeed.

Assuming the guise of his nom de guerre, the Reverend E. Slave, Eddy donned a black Santa suit, carried a ladder bearing the names black rights organizers to the South Carolina State House, set it up next to the flagpole, climbed to the top of the flagpole, cut down the Confederate flag, shouted “this is for the children,” and lit it on fire, as state police heckled him from below and tried to douse him with pepper spray.

Apparently, the study of physics and Newton’s law of gravity are not requirements at the police academy in Columbia and the cops were duly surprised when the pepper spray failed to incapacitate the Reverend Slave and instead blew back into the eyes of the police officers. The officers later filed injury claims.

Eddy clung to the pole, telling his pursuers: “Anybody down there can promise me that this flag will not go back up until my trial?” Eddy asked. “Anybody can make that promise? Make that promise and I’ll come down.”

In South Carolina, old times are not forgotten. The local paper reported the comments of a passing motorist as police tried to pull Eddy down: “String him up right there.” [For the record, there were at least 145 lynchings of blacks by white mobs (ie, homegrown terrorism) in South Carolina from 1882 to 1930, according to the excellent A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings by Stewart E. Tolnay and E.M. Beck.]

Eventually, Eddy was arrested, roughed up a little by the embarrassed cops, shackled and hauled off to jail, to taunts and jeers from a crowd of more than 100 (mostly white) onlookers who had gathered at the site. Within the hour, the Statehouse’s grounds crew secured another Confederate flag (value: $30) and hoisted the infamous banner once again.

The flag may only cost $30 to replace, but the State of South Carolina is determined to impose a much more severe sanction on Eddy. For this modest act of civil disobedience (which some might call a beautification project), Eddy faces a $5,000 fine and three years in prison.

The Reverend Slave was bailed out, but a few days later he was arrested again, supposedly for trespassing on the statehouse grounds, although he was across the street at the time. He peacefully resisted by lying down on the sidewalk and going limp, as the cops hauled him back to jail.

Eddy needs our help and, god knows, the people of South Carolina need his. Fortunately, Eddy’s got two good lawyers Milton Kimpson and CounterPunch contributor and civil rights attorney Tom Turnipseed.

Please send what you can to Eddy’s legal defense fund at:

E. Slave Defense Fund, P.O. Box 4681 Columbia, SC 29240.

 

 

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail