The South Carolina Christian Action Council was not the first, nor was it the only voice calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag. The Council’s first public statement asking South Carolina to take the Confederate Flag off the State House Dome and out of the Legislative Chambers was made in 1986.
Under the leadership of then Executive Minister, Dr. Wayne Bryan, the Council, in 1997, ran a full page ad in the State Newspaper with 698 signatures of Religious Leaders representing many faiths calling for the removal of the Flag.
On January 21, 1997, the Council organized the circling of Carolina Plaza, the Legislature’s temporary location, by more than 750 people in a silent vigil of love and prayer for the convened State Legislature.
The Council, again led by Dr. Bryan, and Julia Sibley, Director of the Council’s Sabbath of Support (a ministry formed in response to the rash of churches burned in the mid-1990s) worked with the SC NAACP, the Urban League, the Chamber of Commerce, and many other entities and individuals to plan and implement the largest protest march in the history of SC. My tenure as Council Executive Minister began on December 1, 1999, so I, too was involved. However the months of work prior to the march were done by Wayne, Julia, and others.
King Day at the Dome 2000: A Rally for Unity.
What a day that was. Thousands and thousands lined up in front of Zion Baptist Church on Washington Street in Columbia after a great Unity Prayer Service. Thousands more joined as we marched up Washington and turned onto Main. Conservative estimates of the crowd begin at 40,000 with top figures reaching 60,000.
That session the Legislature reached a compromise taking the Flag off the Dome and out of the Chambers, but relocating it at the juncture of Main and Gervais at one of the many monuments to the Confederacy on the State House Grounds. Even though a beautiful and moving monument to African Americans came out of that Compromise, the Council and many others were not happy.
Fifteen more Martin Luther King Jr Days came and went; and we marched. The flag was not always the focus. We called for funding for a high quality education for all our children, for access to quality and affordable healthcare for all, for a moral budget and taxation policy, and other just causes. Yet, always, always that Flag hung in each speakers’ face and at the backs of those raising their collective voice for justice.
Until the terrible, awful happened. The massacre of the Charleston 9. The senseless and hate-filled killing of faithful folks, who welcomed a stranger. Ministers and mothers and sisters and brothers and fathers and cousins, a librarian, a coach, a Senator, the young and the old. Killed because a person, misguided at best and with evil intent, did the worst “to start a race war.” His youth adds to our sadness.
Then the unimaginable, amazing happened. Those most grieved, family members of those slain, faced him not 48 hours later in court and spoke words of forgiveness.
Forgiveness. A witness that seemed to touch almost everyone here and beyond.
Not many days later, we watched as the body of the Rev. Senator Pinckney was carried by wagon onto the State House grounds. We recognized and felt the injustice, the long years of violent hurt, the centuries of prejudice, the disrespect that was represented by that Flag when it remained at full mast even as the Flags of the U.S.A. and S.C. both flew at half-mast.
The people demanded that the Flag come down. The Governor said it was time for the Flag to come down. Our Legislators agreed that the Flag was to come down. And it came down. Finally.
Not everyone is happy. Some–like the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the Faithful Father–cannot rejoice because they feel slighted, they feel their ancestors were slighted. As has been said, perception is reality.
So, in reality, there is no Finally. Just more work to be done. Neighbor recognizing neighbor. One on one. Hellos and conversations. Moving beyond our comfort zones.
We have to listen, to hear each others’ stories. To hear each others’ pain. To talk honestly about privilege and prejudice. To examine our own hearts and habits. To address the racism which grew from privilege and power.
Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.
–Theodore Parker, Unitarian minister, born in 1810, called for the abolition of slavery. In 1853 a collection of “Ten Sermons of Religion” by Parker was published and the third sermon titled “Of Justice and the Conscience” included figurative language about the arc of the moral universe.
The Council–as are others–will continue to work, to offer avenues of involvement in this movement toward Racial Justice and Healing. Come, go on this journey to healing and justice with us.
Let us hear from you.
Brenda Lynn Kneece, Executive Minister