Meili Steele opened his 2005 book, Hiding from History, with an essay about South Carolina’s attempt in 1999 to neutralize the controversy over its flying of the Confederate battle flag. The state’s chosen solution, Steele argues in this brief excerpt, was an act of political expediency that cut short a necessary public debate—one that needed to include a serious examination of American history and culture.
Six years ago I was reading the local newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, and discovered that the state legislature was proposing to put the public understanding of history to a referendum. The focus of the referendum was whether the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the statehouse was a fitting memorial to past traditions or a symbol of the legacy of racism. The legislature had raised the flag over the statehouse in 1962 at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement; however, now that the flag’s presence had become controversial, many legislators wanted to avoid a public stand. By calling for a referendum on the flag, the legislators hid from what properly should have been a public debate by appealing to democratic procedures. Continue reading “Hiding from History: South Carolina and the Confederate Battle Flag”