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The fall of a divisive symbol

Melvin B. Miller

For generations, South Carolina has been at the forefront of America’s racial conflict. Now Gov. Nikki Haley has mitigated that role by removing the Confederate battle flag from a place of honor at the state capitol.

Soon after Abraham Lincoln was elected president on Nov. 6, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the union as early as Dec. 20, even before Lincoln was scheduled to take office on March 4, 1861. Six other Southern slave states then joined South Carolina to form the Confederacy. On April 12, 1861, when Lincoln had been in office for only a bit more than a month, the Civil War began with a Confederate attack on the Union Army at Fort Sumter, S.C.

The war lasted for about four years and its violence was unparalleled. A total of 620,000 lives were lost and there were 1,100,000 casualties. Now the names of great battles remain engraved in American history: Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam, Shiloh and Vicksburg, among others. The South lost both the war and the issue that impelled them to battle: the right to enslave others. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1865, abolished that right.

Many members of Southern families lost their status, their property and their lives. A prominent reminder of their political ambitions is the Confederate battle flag that is no longer welcome in many places. Its most distinguished display was on an honored site before South Carolina’s state capitol.

In the conflict for human rights, those who oppose racial equality have now lost their battle flag. To more affluent youth, who are not subject to the draft and are not inclined to volunteer for military service, losing one’s battle flag is of little significance. However, older generations find the loss important.

Gov. Haley is to be commended for removing the stars and bars from the state capitol. It is a gesture that has been favorably received by blacks across America. The Harvard Foundation is justified in acknowledging the significance of that act by inviting the governor to the university for further discussions.

It took about 154 years to relegate the Confederate battle flag to the archives of history. Perhaps discussions at Harvard will inspire Gov. Haley to initiate faster social progress in South Carolina.