No sign of surrender in costly battle over Confederate flag

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - For decades, the Confederate flag has been caught in a controversial whirlwind with different groups clashing over what the flag represents, where it should fly, and who it offends.

After being threatened with lawsuits, South Carolina legislators agreed to remove the flag from atop the State House dome and place it next to a monument right in front of the capitol building.

Members of the NAACP say the flag dishonors African-Americans. "It all starts with respecting people, and in South Carolina we do a very poor job, a sorry job of respecting all people," said Dr. Lonnie Randolph, President of the NAACP's South Carolina Chapter..

Randolph wants the flag removed from the State House grounds. He believes the flag is a painful reminder of some of the darkest parts of American history, including slavery and the Jim Crow era.

That's why for the past 10 years, the civil rights group has been enforcing what it calls "economic sanctions" on the entire state.

"Do you think for one minute think that this state would allow a swastika to be flown because it's someone's heritage? Of course not," Randolph states emphatically. "I know they wouldn't because the Jewish community, and I applaud them, wouldn't allow that type of insult."

Others, however, do not see the flag as a symbol of disrespect, but rather of heritage. "This flag is a soldier's banner; it has nothing to do with the government," says Terry Carter with Sons of Confederate Veterans. "It was flown over the battlefield for troops."

Carter is the Commander of the Litchfield Camp for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He embraces the Confederate flag as the official symbol of his historic society. "My perspective of the Confederate battle flag is it is a Christian flag; it's a flag that represents freedom from tyranny and it's a flag solely as a soldier's banner," explains Carter. "If we look at it in that context, we will see that it was not a government flag and it was not a political flag."

Carter says by flying the flag his group preserves their southern heritage, a heritage the Sons of Confederate Veterans spend most of their time trying to uncover by cleaning up old cemeteries like the one in Marion County where several Confederate soldiers are buried.

Carter continues, "At some point we have to stand up and say these things have no connection to slavery, to the things that people disdain."

No matter a person's stance on whether the Confederate flag is a sign of disrespect or a symbol of southern heritage, one thing is certain: it's admittedly draining money from the local economy.

"For me, the Confederate flag represents one of the biggest economic battles in our state right now," said Brad Dean, President of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

Dean says the ongoing dispute over the flag's location has caused several potential big-time investors from coming to the Grand Strand.

Dean went more in depth as he explained the financial challenges that the longtime battle has caused. "Truth be told, most of us only see the tip of the iceberg, we don't see the greater impact and that is the groups that won't even talk to us and won't even consider coming to South Carolina because of the boycott," said Dean. "Anyone who thinks that the boycott hasn't impacted us is simply not seeing the broader picture of what we're losing because of it."

Dean says millions of dollars are being lost through contracts like the ACC tournament, which Dean says was a sealed deal last spring until the ACC was contacted by the NAACP.

The chamber bounced back from this loss by trying to capture a bid with U.S. Beach Olympic volleyball trials earlier this year. "We stood a very good chance of bringing beach volleyball Olympic trials to the Grand Strand, but as we got into the process and made the final list, we realized that with the boycott it would likely become a battle of negative publicity and that could have international ramifications," claims Dean.

When the ACC deal fell apart, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes was heartbroken. "We felt like we had a good product to offer and the ACC agreed," said Rhodes. "They came down, we showed them around, and we spent the time with them and educated them on Myrtle Beach itself and they decided that this is where they wanted to have the tournament for the next three years."

Rhodes says he's not convinced the NAACP boycott has had as severe an impact as some people claim, since thousands of African-American families still visit the Grand Strand each year. "I think the boycott's a joke because it is not effective," says Rhodes. "The only thing I see that the boycott is doing, and Dr. Randolph pushing this, is he's not doing anything for the African-American people because of the jobs that have been affected."

Dr. Randolph disagreed with Rhodes' stance. "Tell me what they've done to hire African-Americans, what have they done to promote economic development in the African-American community," countered Randolph.

With or without the support of the masses, Randolph says the NAACP will not back down. "Don't impose your way of thinking on the entire state," advised Randolph. "Don't do that, and especially when your way of thinking is not from a humanitarian standpoint of view."

Similarly, those who support the flag say there is no room for compromise. "We've already compromised," Carter said about moving the flag. "It's been taken down from the state capitol and they said that's as far as they're going to go, but yet they want it removed completely and they're going to eventually want everything removed from every facet of our lives."

At a time when it seems the two sides are at a standstill, two leaders in the community have said they want to end the controversy. But state Rep. Tracy Edge says this issue is a tough sell in Columbia.

"We've had some issues here locally that have been stirred up because of the flag where events may have been canceled, sporting events or things of that nature," claimed Edge. "The problem is that throughout the rest of the state it's not an issue."

Edge went on to say since other areas haven't lost a great deal of money, it's hard to convince other legislators around the state that this issue needs to be at the forefront.

"If you try to move it off the state house grounds you will not get a majority to do that," Edge said about the flag. "If you try to move it to the back of the capitol where it's less visible, maybe that's a discussion point. But I don't think that could get a majority either."

We asked Edge if he could see a light at the end of the tunnel. "To be honest with you, I don't know," Edge admitted. "I didn't vote for the compromise to begin with because I didn't think it solved the problem at the time."

Myrtle Beach Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Philip Render drafted a resolution to go before Myrtle Beach City Council earlier this spring. Render's resolution called for the flag to be removed from the State House grounds, but it never made it to city council for a vote.

Dr. Render released the following statement in reference to the Confederate flag issue:

"Regarding the flag issue, I believe "the energies" of the general assembly would be better focused on the extremely challenging budget year that is approaching. The state must trim another billion dollars off a 5 billion state spending bill. These tough times warrant our state lawmakers full attention. With regard to the boycott, it is unfortunate, but I believe it has had little effect on the City of Myrtle Beach. Perhaps reason will prevail at some point."

Which side will prevail over the other? Only time will tell.

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