Culture

End Confederate Memorial Day in South Carolina

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It's May 10, so it's my least favorite holiday in South Carolina: Confederate Memorial Day. As I was wondering how I would wax poetic about why this holiday is offensive not just to Black folks but also to Americans, I got inspiration from one of the places known for holding onto past bad decisions: Hollywood. More specifically, after seeing an ad for the latest film from the 'Planet of the Apes' franchise titled 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.'

I'm not trying to stop you from enjoying this science fiction popcorn movie. Have at it. But I won't deny that the original film, based on the 1963 French novel "La Planète des singes," translated to English as "Planet of the Apes" (or more specifically "Monkey Planet"), is a bit problematic.

By the time the 1968 film hit our theaters with future NRA leader Charlton Heston, America was having its national battle with civil rights. Sure, we can say it's a harmless film about a planet run by monkeys, but the concept of civilization run by "apes," when Black folks are fighting for humane treatment in places like the South, doesn't feel like a coincidence. Hollywood has used the medium of film to propagate particular racist messages like the Lost Cause film "Birth of a Nation" (originally called 'The Clansman'), where after Reconstruction, newly freed African-Americans (depicted in the film by white actors in blackface) overrun pockets of the South—overtly sexualized and ready to take the virtues of white women. By the film's end, the KKK saves the day, and there's a celebration like the Avengers after beating Thanos.

These instances are essential because they show the significance of symbols and what we cherish as a country. Confederate Day is a symbol that should make South Carolinians ask, what are we celebrating?

We can't talk about the day without discussing the flag, which brands everything. The symbolism becomes part of a Southern tradition that could feel like a culture.

Marko Geslani, Historian of Religion at the University of South Carolina, explains, "The 'modern' hoisting of the Confederate flag in SC beginning in 1961 should be seen as a similar act of political will. Our state followed the example set in Georgia in 1956, which was a direct response to Brown v. Board of Education. We might take some courage from the fact that the modern tradition of White Supremacy is about as old as civil rights. Rituals are invented, usually for political purposes."

As our conversation continues, he tells me to check southern states with Confederate memorials and check the installation dates. The construction of these memorials was mainly during the Jim Crow Era, including Stone Mountain, which opened on April 14, 1965, on the 100th anniversary of the assassination of President Lincoln—feeling like the Confederate's version of the 4th of July.

The SCETV Peabody-nominated documentary "Downing of a Flag" focuses on the history of the Confederate Battle flag and its impact on the South Carolina people.

Xavier Blake, producer of 'Downing of a Flag,' talks about his experiences with the flag in South Carolina.

"Growing up in the South, you knew if you saw it as a Black person you were not welcome there, period. The message was absolutely clear because of the history. When it came down I thought it was a huge step for change, now people that looked like me could feel welcome at the Statehouse, the people's house," Blake said.

"But I was disappointed and angry that again it took critical loss and the death of Black people to move folks to change. It never should have been up there and should have been taken down long before the tragedy at Mother Emanuel."

In 2015, the Confederate Flag was permanently taken down from the State House after a White supremacist named Dylann Roof murdered nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The question remains: If the governor took the flag from the Statehouse because it was wrong, why do we still have a holiday celebrating the same thing?

Being Black in South Carolina is an exercise in compartmentalizing. I used to work on Main Street and see that flag every day on my way to work. During the pandemic, when communities wanted porch parties and invited me to DJ, I found myself on Confederate Street in Cottontown.

I'm often told it's history, but it feels more like nostalgia for "the good old days" that didn't seem so good for folks who look like me. I begin to wonder about the psychological effects of these reminders, including a day off from work for a holiday, which is inherently wrong.

I speak with Dr. Napoleon Wells, a Clinical Psychologist with a specialty in the study and treatment of trauma, anxiety, and mood disturbances.

"Memorials, like many American institutions, are supremacist declarations of war. They aren't simply reminders of past heroes or battles. They are current in the psychology of White America, allowing for them to find grand landmarks that are testaments to their true beliefs."

He also explains how "new narratives" can be built with monuments.

"That Confederate General wasn't a traitor and supremacist. He was a hero, and that statue allows me to project that belief into the world now."

In the case of the broken clock being right twice a day, one of the few people that I agree with their take on the topic of Confederate Monuments is Robert E. Lee.

Aside from the fear that these monuments may "keep open the sores of war," Lee expounds in his writings further.

"As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labor."

Now, it's unclear whether those thoughts were about protecting the feelings of all Americans, but it does feel that his feelings about this would extend to a holiday.

But now, if you get today off, I won't judge you. We could petition for a holiday celebrating an impactful African-American from South Carolina. We could replace Confederate Memorial Day with A'ja Wilson Day, and we all get the day off and go to local bars to watch a WNBA game. That's something I can get behind. Until then, you can go to the movies. I hear a new 'Planet of the Apes' movie is showing.

Title photo: Travis Bell/STATEHOUSE CAROLINA

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