Heat Gathering: The rally to take down the Confederate flag in SC following the Charleston shooting

Heat rises from the streets of downtown Columbia, South Carolina. A relentless wave of humid summer weather has come to a head since a gunman killed nine people at a black church 200 miles down I-26 in Charleston just three days ago.

Back in Columbia, blood is boiling. A 1500 plus crowd gathers at the State House, home of the State Legislature and Governor’s Office, and demands the removal of the Confederate Flag from the grounds where it limply hangs against the dimming sky. Saturday night commuters wail on their horns in support of the demonstrators. As poets, politicians, activists, and everyday citizens speak passionately to the crowd on an impromptu stage, static overdriving the microphone, the rallying call Take it down sounds, a ground shaking refrain from the unified mass.

That was the scene in my hometown yesterday.

Photo by Greg Slattery (Greg puts together a zine and website about music and culture in SC & the Southeast, thestereofly.com )

Columbia is the capital of South Carolina. I don’t expect you to know that. Whenever I’m outside of the South, sometimes even within its borders, and tell people I’m from Columbia, South Carolina I get this mind boggling response…Where’s that?

It’s in South Carolina…in the center of the state…the southeast…you know the South… 34.0298 degrees North, 80.8966 degrees West.

And since so few people know about my town or state, I carry all these trivial factoids to rationalize my birth place as equally cool or more charmingly depraved than your bland state…

James Brown, the man was born in South Carolina, so was Shepard Fairey…yeah, the Obey guy…Charleston actually!

We have the oldest free standing college library in the country, it’s called the South Caroliniana…Isn’t that just cool!

People will realize they do know one thing about the place. Then the questions comes…Oh yeah, the Confederate Flag, that’s us…aren’t we crazy…yeah, most people just ignore it.

Photo by Ashley Thomas

That’s been a half-joke for many South Carolinians for a long time now — we just ignore it. Everyday, me and many other Columbiaites drive on Gervais Street, a central vein in the heart of downtown, and pass over Main Street, the town’s growing little hip spot. In my periphery, fronting the big copper dome of the State House, a little ketchup stain attached to a pole ripples in the sky. That’s the Confederate Flag — an ignorable nuisance.

Well I can’t ignore it anymore — not after what happened four days ago in Charleston.

That kid who killed those people carried one flag with him down to Charleston — the Confederate Flag.

Some people around here use this kitschy little expression about the banner to rationalize having it on the State House grounds — it’s in the heritage not hate.

Isn’t that nice. It has alliteration, it’s in iambic tetrameter. But clearly it’s a lie many people have told themselves, not just in South Carolina but across the South and in other places around the country. Clearly the flag means the opposite of that ignorant saying. The Confederate Flag stands for hatred and nothing else.

Photo by Steve Nuzum

It’s an odd thing living in South Carolina. I and many others are irrationally proud of this place while cognizant of that officially endorsed banner of racism which flops around on our State House grounds as one of the most distinct features of our bit of geography.

It’s time now that we can mend that contradiction in our souls — a contradiction that’s been exposed, not just in the Palmetto State, but across the country with the rash of racial violence.

I hope the fire that’s started in Columbia to take down this kind of bigotry spreads across the country.

At the rally to take down the flag, a fellow by the name of Will Green, an activist and favorite bartender to the Soda City (also know as Cola town — get it Cola, Soda…), well, Will got up on the trailer that was converted to a stage — an unexpected breeze blew through the crowd — and took a microphone in hand. Everything became quiet for a moment except the rattle of that flag in the wind. All the people looked away from the flag, seeming once again to ignore the banner’s presence. Then In the loudest, most booming voice of the day Will said — “This flag is lying about us, our state and the kind of people we are…We have to take Southern pride out of the hands of racists and haters…It’s not just about dead Confederates. It’s about us.”

And the crowd explodes! The refrain takes over — Take it down! Standing in that electric body, I imagined people singing the phrase in every other state.

In my father’s garage a Confederate flag hangs — one that I bought him for his birthday last year. My dad is proud to be from the South and he sees this flag as a symbol of that, so I bought it for him with that idea of the banner in mind — but I’m not blinded by that confounding logic as of today. My dad has been a racist for as long as I’ve understood the word, and I’ve remained silent to him, choosing to ignore his bigot mindset whenever it comes spewing out of him. But I can’t be quiet any more — I can’t ignore that flag. I’m going to ask him to take it down today.