October 29, 2021

A NEW DAY DAWNS

When we moved to the capital of South Carolina in 1969, we couldn’t help noticing the three flags flying atop the copper dome of the Statehouse—a United States flag, the Palmetto State flag, and the Confederate battle flag.  It was shocking at first, and then began to seem part of the local landscape.  We learned the Confederate flag was added in 1961 or 1962 in commemoration of the Civil War centennial.  Apparently they “forgot” to say how long the flag was to remain in place, so it stayed long past the centennial. This photo is one I took sometime in 2000 when finally, after many years of debate, the Confederate battle flag was removed from the Statehouse dome and placed on a flagpole near a Confederate monument on the grounds.  Protesters and supporters gathered around the new location and State police were assigned to protect the flag. It remained there another 15 years.

On June 17, 2015, the entire country was horrified by the massacre of nine African American members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  One of those killed was the senior pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator. Ten days later, activist Bree Newsome Bass drove to Columbia from Charlotte, climbed up that flagpole facing Gervais Street and removed the Confederate battle flag.  As expected, she was arrested.  By July 10, the South Carolina lawmakers sent Governor Nikki Haley a bill that ordered this flag removed permanently—to a nearby museum.

This was the program for this October lecture at Benton Chapel which Heather, Charlotte and attended.  The photo shows a triumphant Bree Newsome after she shimmied up that flagpole and removed the flag! We briefly spoke to the lecturer Nikky Finney to tell her of our South Carolina connection. 

She grew up in Sumter, South Carolina and her father Ernest Finney was the first African American Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court since Reconstruction.  A gifted writer and teacher, she won the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry.  That night she read the poem—“A New Day Dawns”– she wrote in the early morning hours after the South Carolina legislators sent the governor their bill authorizing removal of this flag. It begins:

It is the pearl blue peep of day.

All night the Palmetto sky was seized with the aurora and alchemy of the remarkable.

A blazing canopy of newly minted light fluttered in while we slept. We are not free to go on as if nothing happened yesterday, not free to cheer as if all our prayers have finally been answered today.

We are free, only, to search the yonder of each other’s faces, as we pass by, tip our hat, hold a door ajar, asking silently who are we now?

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