INSIDE THE DEBATE OVER THE CONFEDERATE FLAG, PART II
(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series. For the first part, click here).
|| By MICHAEL A. PITTS || There were many misunderstandings during this month’s emotional debate to remove the Confederate battle flag and pole from a memorial located on the South Carolina State House Capitol Complex. In the end, I voted “no” for the removal of that flag on the second reading of S. 897. I authored approximately forty amendments to this bill, many with cosponsors. My objective was two fold: First, to show by single amendments the diversity of the number of monuments that exist on our State House grounds and their vulnerability to sensitivity.
This fact has already been proven in the aftermath of the debate with calls to remove both the African American History Monument – which was also part of the 2000 compromise – and calls for the removal of the Tillman Statue.
Secondly, I wanted to memorialize the flag of the First South Carolina Infantry Regiment of the Confederate Army and the standard bearers of that flag whose bravery and sacrifice in battle is historically chronicled inside our State House rotunda, and also written about by President Teddy Roosevelt.
The First S.C. Volunteers of the 54th Massachusetts Union Army are memorialized in the beautiful artwork of bronze and granite at the African American History Monument on the east side of the complex. I worked through amendments in an attempt to bring the same level of memorialization to their Confederate counterparts – and to the first S.C. Infantry’s regimental flag.
Both units are a significant part of South Carolina History and important to the citizens of this state – along with the war in which they fought. This war and the reasons leading up to it need to be remembered so that history does not repeat itself. We need to remember all history; the good, the bad, and the ugly because collectively, it is who we are.
Slavery is an abomination that still exists today. Amnesty International quit purchasing children back out of slavery in impoverished countries because parents sold them again into a vicious cycle. Horrific as slavery was to the Africans brought to America, it was a dire price paid by ancestors to give us people like Dr. Martin Luther King, General Colin Powell, Senator Tim Scott, and Senator Clem Pinckney.
I can’t imagine our country without such people.
I believed that two of my amendments could achieve my goal: The bronze and granite monument or the replacement of the Battle Flag with the 1st S.C. Volunteers Flag. The flag amendment had a large majority of support in the Republican Caucus, and the monument amendment had good support. Myself and other lawmakers were led to believe that the flag amendment would pass, only to find out that we had been deceived.
It was difficult to find a reason why legislators normally willing to work through their issues were obstinate. I finally realized there is no need to bargain with a salesman when the dealer has promised a free car.
My attempts at equal representation through compromise were met with absolute resistance. My intent, as I stated many times during debate, was not to keep the Confederate battle flag from being taken down – as I know the pain that the flag brings to some of my good friends who are African American. In the end, I voted “no” on second reading of S. 897 because of the stance of no compromise from the other side. I chose not to vote on third and final reading as I was mentally and physically exhausted from the debate and my vote would not have impacted the final outcome.
I have talked with colleagues on the other side of this debate that are willing to work with me in the future to resolve these issues. For the sake of our state, I hope we can work together to faithfully honor our shared history.
Michael A. Pitts is a retired law enforcement officer who represents the voters of District 14 in the S.C. House of Representatives.