Justice in the Deep Denial South

Let me start by stating that I lived in South Carolina for two years back in the 1990s, and that I still visit the state from time to time primarily to see members of my wife's family. My first extended visit to South Carolina was in 1981 for Basic Training at Fort Jackson in Columbia at the beginning of five years of active duty in the Army. My most recent visit was last week. For the purposes of this blog entry it may be helpful to know that I used to be a lawyer and now I'm a teacher. I teach American Government and I taught U.S. History for a number of years. What follows happened when I was practicing law in South Carolina in 1994.

I worked for a law firm in Columbia, South Carolina. At one point I was involved in a case that required me to make a court appearance in Lancaster, South Carolina, the county seat of Lancaster County. I'd never been to the Lancaster County courthouse before, so, as was my habit, I arrived more than an hour before the hearing was to begin to check out the courtroom and sort of get the lay of the land. The courthouse itself was a beautiful, brick antebellum building, built in the third decade of the 19th century. The only courtroom occupied the entire second floor of the courthouse. It, too, was a beautiful piece of early 19th century history, and I simply sat in the otherwise empty courtroom for a good while to absorb its historic aesthetics. I no longer have any memory of the actual hearing or even what the case was about. But I remember that courtroom and my first impressions of that beautiful courthouse.

Those impressions were marred by the presence of a statue placed squarely in front of the entrance to the courthouse. I'll switch to the present tense here, because the statue is still there, although a fire gutted the courthouse in 2008 and it is now a museum. A large, tall, engraved pedestal supports a statue of an armed Confederate soldier. The engraving around the base celebrates the Confederacy in a non-apologetic fashion. On one side of the pedestal are the following words: "God holds the scales of justice; He will measure praise and blame; and the South will stand the verdict; and will stand it without shame." The engraving on the front of the statue lauds the confederate soldiers'  "fadeless fame . . . won in defending the honor of the South, the rights of the states, the liberties of the people, the sentiments of the South, the principles of the Union, as they were handed down to them by the fathers of our common country." In essence, an armed soldier of the Confederacy stands permanent guard over the entrance to the halls of justice (note that "God" holds the scales of justice, and not a blindfolded Lady of Justice) and proudly proclaims that, although the South lost the Civil War, the Confederacy was and remains right about the reasons for its prosecution. So, from the late 1800s until 2008, any African American seeking justice in Lancaster, South Carolina had to first pass by a permanent monument of an armed Confederate soldier of the South boldly and hypocritically trumpeting the states' and the people's "rights, liberties, sentiments, and principles." Not a word about treason, slaughter, or equality; no nod to the deserved end to the wretched treatment of millions of humans as property; no hint of regret for the destruction such a system caused and continues to wreak; nothing but the same old same old and the hell with anyone who dares to disagree. 

In the aftermath of the grotesque ambush in Charleston, South Carolina Governor Haley has indicated a willingness to discuss whether flying the so-called Confederate flag at the state's capitol building should continue. I should think that discussion would be rather short and one-sided. However, given that the state still publicly and hideously memorializes owning other humans as one of the "liberties of the people," that "discussion" is likely to drag on while another generation pays the price of ignorance, intransigence, and denial.

Lancaster, South Carolina

Lancaster, South Carolina