Rep. Joe Wilson, the congressman who accused the President of lying last night during his address on health care to a joint session of Congress, isn’t just some mean-spirited buffoon. As a South Carolina legislator, he was one of only 7 state senators who fought to keep the confederate battle flag flying over the state capital. South Carolina, of course, was the first state to leave the Union after Lincoln was elected. Flying the confederate battle flag was a big deal in the south, which was once—and in some cases is still—inhabited by the KuKluxKlan and its successors. Here, via Kris Kromm’s excellent blog Facing South, is what happened when South Carolina’s state legislature voted to take down the flag in the 1990s:
… then-Sen. Wilson did more than vote to keep [the flag]: he went so far as to appear to defend the Confederacy, declaring that “the Confederate heritage is very honorable.” Here’s the full quote from a BBC News report:
But local lawmakers, like Republican senator Joe Wilson say it is all about pride and history, and nothing to do with racism and hate. He finds comparisons with Nazis odious.
“That’s offensive to me that they would take my heritage and make it into a Holocaust era type description. I find that very offensive, and it’s not true,” Senator Wilson said. “The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage is very honourable.”
The decision to fly the Confederate battle flag was made by an all-white legislature in 1962 as the civil rights movement was picking up steam. The bill passed in 2000 didn’t even remove the flag entirely—it called for a different version of flag to be flown in front of the state house instead of on top of it.
The continued presence of a Confederate flag at the state house has caused the controversy to continue. In July 2009, the Atlantic Coast Conference—after discussions with the NAACP—decided to move three future college baseball tournaments out of South Carolina.