During our lives we have experienced events that have altered the way in which we see the world and our place in it. Most often they are traumatic occurrences that shake us to our very core and cause us to question the things we have taken for granted and accepted as normal our entire lives. During my lifetime the moon landing, the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War and 9/11 impacted on me and my generation in ways that changed our perception of the world and indeed the universe in which we live. For many of us, these events stimulated a new-found appreciation of both life’s offerings and its obligations. Additionally, it has been shown that traumatic events impact on voting behavior and personal ideology. In so doing they cause a realignment and reconfiguration of party loyalties and institutional behavior. The question for us to ponder at this time is whether the brutally racist killings of nine innocent victims in a Charleston church is such an event. Further, if it is, what impact will it have on what has been known for a political lifetime as the “Solid South”?
The current call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State Capitol has begun to give us a clue. Remember that this flag was first flown over the South Carolina State Capitol Building in 1962 as a symbol of resistance to integration. A few years ago, in a compromise with those calling for its complete removal, it was moved from the Capitol Building to the capitol grounds. Support for keeping this flag flying was strong and relentless. It was a symbol of the “old south” and garnered great nostalgia. The supporters have denied that it is a symbol of hate, but to a growing majority it has come to symbolize the kind of behavior that took the lives of nine worshippers in a Charleston church.
I did a good part of my growing up in Asheville, North Carolina. It was not the Asheville of today with its openness and artsy environment. The Asheville I lived in was a segregationist dream with school segregation and housing and job discrimination. We used to sing Dixie at school football games. The Confederate flag was a normal and accepted part of life. Asheville was no different from towns throughout the South. The Civil War, known in the South as “the War Between The States”, was still being fought. The flag was, in fact, a symbol of white superiority and still is to this day. While South Carolina has been blatant in its support of this symbolism, it is a fact that five Southern states have some element of the Confederate flag contained within their state flags.
The shooting in Charleston seems to have awakened people from their nostalgic dreams of the “old South” and helped them to see what that mindset created. A “son of the South”, a 21-year-old man who had grown up amidst the traditions of hatred and white supremacy that have prevailed for so long, felt it was just fine to brutally kill nine black worshippers in church. He felt it was his “mission” as part of an effort to save the traditions of segregation.
The movement to remove the Confederate Flag has grown with incredible speed. It has placed State government officials, including the governor, in a position in which they felt it necessary to concur and call for its removal. It has placed pressure on Presidential candidates, some of whom had the courage and conviction to also call for its removal. This symbol of hatred, a symbol of the old and Solid South is now hanging by a thread. National retailers have announced an end to the sale of any Confederate symbol or clothing. What will be next as we watch these symbols crumble?
The Southern states are no longer homogenous. There are many who have moved into such cities as Charlotte and Atlanta from outside of the South. Will what we have come to expect as Southern political behavior be altered by the events in Charleston? If it does, it will be incredibly healthy for the country, but most importantly for the millions who call the South their home.