National Women’s Day: Bree Newsome

The confederate battle flag was not just the banner flown by an army fighting for the right to own black people, it was also the banner that was revived and waved by those who opposed desegregation and civil rights.Bree

In honor of the centennial celebration of the Civil War in 1961, South Carolina decided to raise the confederate battle flag over the state house. No black people were on the commission that made that decision.

Not only were they not on that commission, but South Carolina did not allow any black people to participate in their hosting of the national festivities. JFK tried to force the South Carolinians by moving the festivities to an integrated Navy base in Charleston, but the white people led a walk out and held their own official celebration in a segregated hotel. In that celebration Strom Thurmond gave a speech saying integration was evil and that the US Constitution never promised racial equality.

That is when that flag went up on the South Carolina capitol building. Black people (and some allies) have been asking for that flag to come down ever since. Those in authority continually refused.

On June 17th, 2015 a white supremacist murdered 9 black worshipers in a Charleston church. In the subsequent outcry against violent racism, there was some talk of the flag coming down. Those in authority thought they might allow it.

On June 27, 2015 a full 54 years after that flag went up, a black woman named Bree Newsome climbed the 30 foot flag pole and tore the flag down in defiance of the police who waited below to arrest her. She refused to wait for some democratic action to recognize her humanity when God had granted it from birth.

She was of course arrested when she came back down.

On July 9th the SC House of Representatives voted to remove the confederate battle flag in some seemingly gracious act of conciliation. It was an act that came not only 23 days too late, but 54 years overdue.

Bree, in her act of theater, gave America a symbol illustrating  bravery and self determination in blackness.

Here is my nod to you Bree Newsome.2





When a College is Historically White, Then Black, Then White Again: Black History Month

The University of South Carolina was founded by a state charter in 1801 and was the 23rd college founded in the United States. It was only for white people. When South Carolina started the Civil War, the students went off to fight for the South and the school closed, then it was occupied by Northern forces. After the war (1865) it was reopened under South Carolina’s reconstruction government.library reading room

They, the reconstructionists, made the school open to Black people. And it wasn’t just the students. One of the new professors they hired after the war ended was Richard Theodore Greener, America’s first Black professor at any state run flagship university (he was also the first Black person to graduate from Harvard). By 1875 ninety percent of the student body were Black.

When reconstruction was abandoned and democrats retook the state government (1876), they quickly closed the school down. Then in 1880 they reopened the school, but only to White people. After the passing of Brown vs. the Board of Education, which outlawed segregation, USC became the nation’s first college to require an entrance exam. That was 1954. The school did not admit any Black students till

Mind you, Professor Greener (who left the school when the democrats closed it down) graduated Harvard back in 1870, almost 100 years earlier.

History is not a straight line ascending up and up eternally. It weaves a drunkards path, back and forth, forward and back. Forward progress is not, and has never been, natural or inevitable.

Black History is American History: it will take more than a month

Pop quiz: In the year 1776 most of the people in South Carolina were:

a) Rich Land Owners

b) Loyal to the English Crown

c) Peasants of Scotch-Irish Descent

d) Blackstate house

The answer is D. By a long shot. If you did not know this, and have not thought through the ramifications of this fact, we still need a Black History Month.

That Flag

The confederate battle flag is being removed from the South Carolina capitol grounds. I have never thought, nor do I think now, that everyone who flies that banner hates black people. That being said I want nothing to do with that flag any more than I do a bright red Nazi banner. I have been somewhat disappointed though not surprised, that so many are complaining about this recent confederate flag backlash. “Things have gone too far,” some say. “It’s just a flag. People need to be less easily offended,” I have heard. “It is ridiculous that they want to outlaw this flag.” All of this has made me do some thinking and reflecting.rebel flag at capitol

I like Mummers. I am more than amused by mummery. My little family and I visited the Mummer Museum in South Philadelphia some years back and we were all amused as I tried on various bits of feather and sequin outfits as is part of the mummer experience. Seeing me all bedazzled was amusing to all, including myself. Whilst adorned in glittery wonder I stood and read a plaque describing how the roots of the mummer strut was the cake walk and how the wearing of black face, meant to mock uppity black folk,  was a proud part of mummery till forced by the government to cease the practice in the 60’s. This story, this historical truth, sucked the fun out of my feathered cape. I looked over at my wife and daughter, both with deep brown skin, and felt ashamed at my outfit. I took off my rhinestone crown and my wife, still smiling, said, “Let’s go see the glockenspiels.”rebel house 001

I don’t think mummers are racist. Wearing that outfit did not make me a racist. Yet in that moment, wearing those symbols of mummery and learning the racist roots, I had no desire for my black wife to see me and those symbols intertwined.  The confederate battle flag is coming down from the South Carolina State capitol building. This doesn’t exactly make me happy, but that is mostly because I am sad it was ever there in the first place. So much more so than gaudy mummer clothes, that flag is a symbol of racism.greenwood 007

When I first moved to Greenville South Carolina they did not officially recognize Martin Luther King Day. There was at that time a raucous debate going on among local politicians and the public on whether or not this should be changed. I was not involved nor was I vocal. I had other things on my mind and I knew where I stood on things, I didn’t need a holiday to teach me things, I went on about my business. Part of that business was getting a new driver’s license. I found the local DMV and during regular business hours paid them a visit to get myself legal. They were closed. Across the door was stretched a festive banner that read, “Closed in celebration of Confederate Memorial Day”.greenwood 012

A message was sent to me right then and there that in this state, my new home, that the memory of white rebel soldiers was more important than black people in general. Perhaps I was jumping to conclusions and misreading the situation. Perhaps. But the message was sent. Those in power at that time wanted to pay honor to rebel soldiers in an official and governmentally endorsed manner, but were in open opposition to doing the same for a civil rights leader who believed in non-violence. What else was I supposed to think? With that in mind I would drive around town and local communities and the confederate battle flag was everywhere. On cars, on flag poles in front of people’s homes, and even affixed permanently on trees lining the highway. It flew from the top of the state capitol. That flag, the same one waved by segregationists as they screamed and spit on black kids who were trying to go school, the same one that leads Klan parades, was being officially waved by the government of the state I now lived in. Those segregationists chose that flag when they gathered in opposition to black people. I’m married to a black person. Every day I would drive around and see that flag, then go home and see my wife and children. How was I supposed to feel welcome anywhere?

It shouldn’t matter that my wife is black. A person doesn’t need to have ever met a black person to care. Why would I want to wave a banner that tells black people I am against them? Why would I want my government to wave a flag that tells black people they are not welcome? But many people do want that flag there. Those who do in fact hate black people repeatedly choose that flag to wave. Because of that, I want nothing to do with it.

No. I’m not happy about any of this.

Greenville, SC

We once lived in Greenville, South Carolina.  My wife has often said she would love to move back and my swing through the upstate was a bit of a nostalgic one.  In retrospect, and upon my return, I found the town a great place to hang your hat.

Main st. Greenville, SC

I knew nothing of Greenville when my then employer sent us there to live, other than that it was the site of a presidential election flap.  Then candidate Bush had spoken at Bob Jones University, a Republican powerhouse which happened to have an official school rule banning interracial dating.  The school dropped the rule after all the uproar in the election but it would be fair to say we were a bit nervous when we arrived in town.

Ranked as the nation's second most conservative school (BYU is #1)
Furman University, a liberal arts college also in Greenville, is an amusing balance to Bob Jones in that its abreviation makes Furman University's shirts and hats quite popular with college aged kids who never attended the school.

No one warned us to get out of town as we unloaded the truck and my stomach began to like living there.  Greenville boasts a population of approximately 50,000 people and quite possibly 100,000 restaurants.  If there is a chain eatery that exists, Greenville has two of them.  Every building that ever gets put up for sale, or condemned, is quickly turned into a Barbeque joint.  I discovered two of my most favorite ingestible substances in Greenville; Mutt’s sweet potato crumble (mentioned in a previous post) and Blenheim extra hot ginger ale (which will have it’s own post to come).  I began to like this town.

Then there is main street.

Many small towns, or locales that are past their hey-day, attempt to create a revitalized downtown.  They give it their best to create an area that will attract shoppers and diners on a weekend or evening.  Few succeed, even fewer hit a home run like Greenville.

O.P. Taylor's Toy Store

Main street is lined with trees and parking spaces.  Even better, its lined with eclectic stores and shops.  O.P. Taylor’s toy store with its toy soldiers standing guard at the door, sports a collection of dolls, planes, and unique gifts that you would be hard pressed to find in Toys R’ Us.  The Mast General Store will help you find your obligatory palmetto tree logo’d gear, housewares, or vintage candies and soda.  I suggest a cold bottle of Cheerwine, cherry soda.  The list of stores, eateries, and galleries goes on, but is also supported by outdoor concerts every week in the summer, a street lighting parade every December, and little touches like life-size statues of mice placed randomly about town.  It was nearly charming enough to make one swoon.  But there is yin to this yang.

Confederate grave yard just off Main St.

There was some press while we lived there about the county being one of, if not the only, locale that did not recognize Martin Luther King day.  This was not a new controversy to me, I had lived other places arguing the same issue, and I thought little of it.  That is till I went to the DMV to renew my driver’s license only to find it closed for Confederate Memorial Day.  Either one in a vacuum could be explained away, but together they cast a shadow.  With this in mind I began to notice other things as well.

Begs the question, "in what way were the soldiers in grey right and how will history prove it?"

The historical markers about town did not just pay homage to, but praised the ideals of the old south.  Rebel flags flew on all sorts of structures and cars had stickers boasting “heritage, not hate.”  There was no room for doubt where this city lie in relation to the Mason-Dixon Line and which side of the civil war still had the town’s support.  One should be proud of one’s history and heritage right?

One Easter season Al Allen, a man from a previous generation, took pity on a young couple with no family in town, and invited us over for an Easter dinner.  As we made our way down his stairs to where a larger than normal table was set up to accommodate us, we stepped into what could have been a Greenville County black history museum.

Every inch of wall space in the finished basement was covered with photographs, certificates, and various nostalgic paraphernalia.  There was a young Al with a football team, with some man in a suit, with a group of men in suits, pictures of buildings I had never seen, and some pictures of buildings I had seen.  The images were all in black and white, but the people were all black.  He told me tales of when he met with so and so, or worked on a commission with you know who, none of who’s names I knew then or can remember now; except Sterling field.

Once the stadium and field of Sterling High School.

I played rugby on Sterling Field three times a week.  It was in the less attractive part of town, we had to share the field with local little league football teams, but it was the cheapest field around for a low budget sports club.  “Used to be a great field,” Mr. Allen told me matter of factly.  “Yeah?  What happened to it?” I asked, not really caring as I was more interested in the images on the wall than his list of unrecognized names.  His answer to my half hearted question got my full attention.

 He told me how Sterling High school used to have the best football team around.  It was the county’s black school and the pride of all who went there.  The kids got a top notch education, the community loved the place, and to top it all off, they won football games.  Then came integration.

Integration didn’t happen all at once.  Like most things, first rumors started, then meetings were held, and finally maybe a couple years later, something would happen.  It was the late 60’s and the writing was on the wall, the whole state knew it was coming.  Word came that Sterling would not be closed, sending their students off to other schools, but rather white kids were to be sent there.  This was a top performing school both in academics and on the field; it was going to be a great example and the Sterling community was guardedly excited.  Then, the year before it was to integrate…

It burned to the ground.

Local home showing its colors.

It caught fire the night of prom and burned down to stubble.  The school was never rebuilt, and in 1970 all the kids were bussed off to other schools.

As he told the story there was no anger or resentment in his voice.  He was just an older guy telling a “back in the day” story.  He moved right from that story to showing me his collection of R&B records.  The rest of the night consisted of great food, his wife chiding him for trying to smoke in doors when a baby was  in the house, and him later giving that baby a stuffed rabbit the size of a live horse.  I’ve never been the best at keeping in touch and I have no idea how Al Allen is today.  I wonder how he is, but I never do anything.

Travellers and visitors to Greenville would never know stories like this, and that is just fine.  Everywhere has its ghosts; they need not be put on constant display.  So if you ever find yourself half way between Atlanta and Charlotte, enjoy it.  Visit the Reedy River with its stunning bridge, get some jewelry at the Beaded Frog, and as you look at the confederate flags. know that Sterling field used to be nice.

View from the bridge over Reedy River.