Threats Over Confederate Flag Even as it Comes Down in SC
By Don Terry
Early this morning, after weeks of public protest and more than 10 hours of emotional debate that began Wednesday, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted to permanently remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the Statehouse.
But elsewhere, the civil war over the flags carried by the armies and night riders defending slavery, Jim Crow and current-day forms of white nationalism is far from over — and it’s turning ugly.
In Danville, the small Virginia city known as the last capital of the Confederacy, an African-American member of the City Council says that an anonymous would-be blackmailer threatened Tuesday “to destroy my character if I continue” calling for the removal of the Confederate flag that has flown on city-owned property since the mid-1990s.
The councilman, Lawrence Campbell Jr., says the FBI is investigating the threat and local authorities have offered to provide police protection to his family.
Campbell says there is a “hit list” that includes the names of two other black elected officials and “I’m number one on the list.”
“But there’s no way in the world,” Campbell told Hatewatch Wednesday afternoon, “that I’m going to let any 21st century, masked night riders intimidate me through cyber-terrorism. They can kiss my black Bible.”
“There’s no way in the world,” he continued, “that I will back down.”
The Danville Register & Bee reports that the group threatening to discredit Campbell and “two other men in Virginia with repercussions if they continue to seek the removal of Confederate flags” is called “Anonymous CSA.”
“But there’s no way in the world that I’m going to let any 21st century, masked night riders intimidate me through cyber-terrorism. They can kiss my black Bible.”
CSA usually stands for Confederate States of America. The Danville Chief of police, Phillip Broadfoot, did not immediately respond to Hatewatch seeking comment.
Campbell learned of the blackmail threat late Tuesday afternoon. He says he was notified by Chief Broadfoot just three hours before a City Council meeting that a “package that could damage my career” had arrived at the station. While the fate of the flag was not on the official council agenda for Tuesday, everyone in the city of about 45,000 residents along the banks of the Dan River knew it would be a hot topic and that Campbell would undoubtedly have something to say about it.
“They [the alleged blackmailer] knew if they could shut me up,” Campbell says, “they would have more clout. They were saying to me Tuesday night that they would do a number on me and my family. It hurt me. I’m not perfect. I shed a few tears and then I turned to Scripture: ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’”
Bringing down the Confederate flag has been a years-long struggle in Danville. Last year, Campbell, the son of prominent and longtime Danville civil rights activists, was part of the effort to have the flag taken down and placed, not in a dustbin where many believe it belongs, but inside the local history museum where it currently flies out front.
Campbell says he spoke for an hour on the council floor, urging his colleagues to order the flag down. It was a lost cause. The city council voted 7-to-2 to do nothing.
But the battle cry to lower once and for all what is perhaps the most blatant symbol of the nation’s ongoing struggle with white supremacy and racial injustice was renewed in Danville and across the South after the Charleston church massacre in June and the discovery of photographs of the alleged gunman, Dylann Storm Roof, posing with a pistol and a Confederate battle flag.
“The old system still in place,” Campbell told Hatewatch, “wants to keep the Confederate flag flying as a symbol of racism, as a symbol of white supremacy, as a symbol of women and blacks not having the right to vote.
“And we’re saying no.”
Campbell spoke at the Tuesday night council meeting, advocating that the flag be removed. He also told the audience of about 70 people, some wearing Confederate battle flag patches on the back of their jackets, that he was being threatened and blackmailed.
The council took no action on the flag Tuesday and the city say there is nothing local officials can do because taking it down would require a change in state law.
The flag that flies on government property in Danville and insults and hurts so many of the city’s black — and white — residents is not the well-known battle flag. It is the Third National flag of the Confederate States of America and waves from a pole attached to a simple cement monument to the Confederate dead.
The Danville chapter of the Heritage Preservation Association (HPA), which, in the words of ThinkProgress, “ardently supports the Confederate flag as a supposed symbol of cultural heritage,” pushed hard to have monument and flag installed in 1995 in front of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History. The HPA is the organization that coined the phrase “Heritage not Hate,” a sign of seeming moderation. But several years ago, in a revealing moment, its then-Alabama leader Linda Sewell was photographed accepting a certificate of appreciation from the leader of the Aryan Nations Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
The city owns the property that houses the museum, including the museum’s main building, the historic Sutherlin mansion, built in 1856. For seven days in April 1865, the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, holed up in the mansion as his slavocracy was going down to bloody and bitter defeat. The last full meeting of the Confederate cabinet was held there. It was also where Davis learned, on April 10, 1865, of Lee’s surrender.
That history is a significant part of the story the museum tells and no one is trying to diminish it, Cara Burton, the museum’s executive director, told Hatewatch. But the Confederate flag flying on the lawn in front of the museum is keeping people away, she said. So last year, in a letter to the city, the museum’s board asked that the flag be taken down and installed inside the building as part of the museum’s strategic plan to attract more visitors and financial support in a city that is half African-American.
“The plan emphasizes diversity and welcomes all citizens to enjoy the programs offered to the public,” the letter stated, adding that the “board is proud of our local history and remains committed to telling the story of Danville, Major Sutherlin and his family, and the historic mansion in the context of the Civil War.”
That apparently is not good enough for some in town. Councilman Campbell said someone has put in an offer to buy the Sutherlin mansion and other nearby buildings that house the museum. He told Hatewatch that the property has been recently appraised at $1.5 million but the offer is for only $500,000. He said some on the City Council believe the city could get at least $1 million dollars for the property. Burton, the executive, said if the building is sold, the museum would have to find a new location.
“When I look at my grandson and other children in the city of Danville and this nation to have a flag flown that represents bigotry, hatred, the image of white supremacy it breaks my heart.”
Although the museum is struggling financially, Campbell said he is opposed to the city selling the property. He said he believes the current offer is coming from “Confederacy people who want to buy it so they keep the flag flying.”
“If they buy the building,” Campbell said, “it will be private property and they can keep flying that flag forever. It is so important that flag not be flown. When I look at my grandson and other children in the city of Danville and this nation to have a flag flown that represents bigotry, hatred, the image of white supremacy it breaks my heart. That’s why I won’t ever back down.”
This article was first published on the Hatewatch blog.