By now, most of the world has heard about the massacre that took place less than five miles from my house on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. As I slept in my very comfortable bed at 9 pm that night due to a sinus infection, I awoke around midnight and looked at my phone. A friend from Atlanta had texted me, “Are you watching the news?” My stomach dropped. I knew something terrible happened as I typed, “No. Why?” He proceeded to tell me that a white man had massacred nine people at the Emmanuel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church on the corner of Meeting and Calhoun Streets. My heart sank.
The community immediately sprang into action. There were spontaneous prayer vigils forming just beyond the police tape that night – black and white people in tears trying to comfort each other. We were all in immediate mourning. One of the people murdered was SC State Senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney – a man who was respected and loved by both the black community and the South Carolina leadership. The following day, there was a noon prayer meeting at the Morris Brown AME Church. The sanctuary was filled to capacity and people spilled into the parking lot. Black and white people stood together, held hands and prayed for strength. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and US Senator Tim Scott were in attendance. The theme on every news channel was how unified Charleston is and how loving and strong we are in the face of such tragic and devastating racist violence.
We learned more about the shooter, Dylann Roof. He is a 21-year-old white kid from just outside Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina, who has an affinity for all things Confederate. The decorative front license plate on his car paid homage to the “Confederate States of America.” We learned from a witness that he shouted racial slurs at them as he shot nine people dead – nine people who had welcomed him into their prayer meeting where he sat for nearly an hour before committing this heinous massacre.
This show of unity in Charleston is a mask. While some white people and black people are on the same page, there are far more white people who have been holding hands with black people, mourning the senseless loss of life at Emmanuel AME Church, while at the same time digging their heels in to maintain the status quo and keep the very visible symbols of oppression, tyranny and hate alive. Those symbols, such as the Confederate Battle Flag flying high on State House grounds in Columbia, the John C. Calhoun statue perched high in the air looking down on Marion Square in Charleston, are offensive and hurtful to the very people they’re holding hands with and praying with – the very people who were the targets of the latest race-based attack – the very people who lost loved ones in that race-based attack.
Not all, but many white people in South Carolina who have been here for generations, look upon the US Civil War and the Confederacy in a romantic way. They are proud of the fact that their ancestors fought for the Confederacy. They claim this as their heritage.
There was nothing honorable about the Confederacy. There is nothing to glorify. It was a dark time in US and South Carolina history so yes, it should always be remembered, but never glorified and never celebrated. The Declaration of Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union mentions the word “slave” 18 times. The word “sovereign” is mentioned seven times. It’s been very clearly expressed by those who signed the Declaration of Secession why South Carolina seceded from the Union and that sole reason was to preserve the institution of slavery.
The fact that anyone’s ancestor fought to preserve that should be looked upon academically or shamefully, but never pridefully. No one is blaming them for their ancestors’ roles in attempting to preserve slavery, but they will be blamed when they attempt to glorify it at the expense of those who descended from the slaves who were brutalized by the Confederacy. This culture of pride in the Confederacy is the same culture that created Dylann Roof.
We, as Jews, were also part of this ugly history. The Attorney General for the Confederacy was a Jewish man by the name of Judah Benjamin. Jews were the primary slave owners in the Caribbean plantations, which is where Judah Benjamin was born. We, as Jews, do not have clean hands when it comes to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Fortunately, we, as Jews, were also instrumental allies for the Civil Rights movement and some of us died as a result. While that doesn’t erase the fact that we participated in slave-owning a century earlier, it seems that we did not hold onto that past as something to be proud of and glorify as our “heritage.”
The Confederate Battle Flag, not a regiment flag, but a battle flag primarily used in Virginia, was placed on our South Carolina State House in 1962 in defiance of the Civil Rights movement. That specific flag was chosen because of its affiliation with anti-Civil Rights groups (aka hate groups) such as the KKK. South Carolina chose this flag for precisely the same reason Dylann Roof chose that flag to adorn his car. This is what they’re calling to preserve.
As the NAACP has stated, there will be no unity in Charleston until the Confederate Battle Flag is no longer flying on any government building in South Carolina. To the white people of Charleston who are holding hands with their black neighbors, you do not deserve the honor holding the hand of a black person if you support the Confederate Battle Flag or the statue of John C. Calhoun staying put. You will never understand the pain these symbols cause to the person whose hand you’re holding because you don’t even care enough to ask.
Take the flag down! #Takeitdown