Nine people were murdered in Charleston this last week. Slaughtered by a young man filled with racist hate and fear and encouraged by a tiny minority of my country’s people. The community of Charleston is responding to these murders with a grace and power that must be making Jesus weep with joy.
The rest of the country is locked in battle over a piece of cloth – a symbol of pride for some and of hatred for others. There is no flag on earth under which both atrocities and acts of courage have not been committed. Custer, and Jackson, and Calley all fought with the metaphorical winds of public opinion unfurling America’s red, white, and blue over their actions. A thousand brave men fought beside them under the same flag.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: A state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel, he was married to Jennifer Benjamin and the father of two children, Eliana and Malana.
I live in Arkansas, am married to a man from South Georgia. Hell, I’m from northern California and, back in the day, I could hood slide and yell “Yeehaw!” right along with the Duke boys. Those days are gone. The Confederate flag has been removed, finally, from the grounds of public buildings. As for the removal of the stars and bars from chain stores, Amazon, and gift shops – well, that’s the way the free market works in this country. Retailers stock their shelves with items on which they can make money and which will not offend more people than these items bring into the stores.
Cynthia Hurd, 54: According to the Charleston County Public Library, she was a 31-year employee who managed the John L. Dart Library for 21 years before heading the St. Andrews Regional Library.
I am going to announce right here and now, straight up and out loud, that for me, the Confederate flag dredges up images of black men hanging from trees, burning crosses and grown men hiding their faces under white hoods. When I see that flag, I see hoses turned on peaceful marchers, I hear the venom of Bull Conner and George Wallace, I remember Little Rock Central High School and the University of Alabama. That particular flag is, to me, a symbol of the worst of the land below the Mason-Dixon, a land I love and whose people I adore.
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45: A pastor at Emanuel, she was also a speech therapist and high school girls track and field coach, both positions at Goose Creek High School.
But regardless of my personal reaction, I have dozens of friends for whom that very same flag is a symbol of warm hospitality and fierce pride and incredible bravery. Friends who are not racists. Friends who are warm, sincere, generous people. It is difficult for me to understand their love of this particular southern symbol. But my difficulty in understanding in no way tarnishes their love of that symbol. Besides I have an analogy that helps me understand.
Tywanza Sanders, 26: He was a 2014 graduate in business administration from Allen University in Columbia.
Just over forty years ago I lived in Germany for a few years. There are more swastikas at an American flea markets than in Deutschland. The flag and symbols of the Third Reich are forever identified with the holocaust. The German people know their grandfathers and uncles fought bravely. They know Hitler brought them out of extreme poverty and into the modern world, the trains ran on time, and they didn’t need a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. The German people also know the extreme dangers of institutionalized bigotry.
Ethel Lance, 70: She had attended Emanuel for most of her life and worked there as a custodian, as well.
Was there anti-Semitism in Germany twenty years after WWII when I was there? Oh, hell, yes. My husband and I rented three different houses during our stay. At each house, the landlord pointed out the portrait of Jesus over the bed or the mantle, asked point blank, “This is okay with you, this picture? It is nice, yes?” or they invited us for lunch, served a tasty pork roast and inquired, “Is pork. Good, yes? The flesh of the pig?”
Susie Jackson, 87: Lance’s cousin, she was a longtime church member.
Is there bigotry and racism within our own country? Well, of course. Do bigots test the waters with racist jokes, comments, and coded questions? Hell, yes. Do some of these bigots fly the Confederate flag? Yes. Is everyone who flies that flag a bigot? Of course not. But, when I see that flag hung on a wall or blowing in the breeze over a jacked-up 4×4, you had better believe my first impression, my first thought is a giant flashing warning. While that is certainly not the reaction of everyone, those who fly that flag know the visceral, gut reaction of many to that particular symbol. Rebels don’t care and that’s their right.
Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49: The mother of four sang in Emanuel’s choir.
My reaction to that flag is based on my own personal experience and is mine with which to deal. In no way does my gut reaction mean that a person shouldn’t be allowed to fly a flag or hang any symbol they desire. I have Buddhist images in my home. I’ve had people visit me who are uncomfortable with these images, who, either through their own honest Christian beliefs or through lack of understanding, are offended by these symbols. I don’t have any more intention of removing these objects from my home than others have of taking down the Confederate flag.
The Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74: Simmons survived the initial attack but then died in a hospital operating room. He had previously been a pastor at another church in the Charleston area.
We all have enough common sense to know these rules of our American society. No one is coming for your Confederate flag or for my Mandela. There will always be places where you can buy historic Confederate relics and symbols. But the tide has turned, we all hope and pray that the time for institutionalized racism in this country has come and gone. Removing that particular Confederate symbol from store shelves is about money, about free enterprise. It is not illegal to sell the flag, it is unprofitable to antagonize the majority of the American people in order to meet the needs of the minority.
Myra Thompson, 59: She was the wife of the Rev. Anthony Thompson, the vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston.
I honestly don’t care one wit about who flies what flag. It’s a piece of cloth, all too often waved to justify war by people who have not a clue as to the true cost of battle. Hang whatever you want on your wall or over your truck or front porch. Wrap yourself in whatever bloody flag appeals to you, but make damn sure it’s your blood staining that flag. In the meantime, please, let us remember and say a prayer for the nine people who had their lives cut short in that historic Charleston church.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
The Rev. Daniel Simmons