On the floor of the South Carolina Senate Tuesday, the son of longtime US Senator and segregationist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond made an impassioned call to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse.
Republican State Sen. Paul Thurmond looked past his own ancestry—and at least two of his colleagues in the Senate who have told the Post and Courier they would vote to keep the flag. He told his colleagues that the “time is right” to remove the symbolic flag from above the statehouse one day after Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsey Graham called for its removal. Thurmond eulogized his friend and colleague state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was leading Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Church when he was killed, alongside eight other black churchgoers, in a mass shooting on June 19. Authorities have charged 21-year-old Dylann Roof.
Reflecting on the June 19 shooting, Thurmond said:
I cannot comprehend the hate that was visited upon the Holy City, but I can respond with love and unity and kindness and maybe show others that their motivation for future attacks of hate will not be tolerated, will not result in a race war, will not divide us, but rather will strengthen our resolve to come together as one nation, one state, and one community under God.
Though he said nothing in his speech about his father, who is arguably most famous for his day-long filibuster against civil rights legislation in 1957, the longest in US history, Thurmond discussed his ancestors’ place along General Robert E. Lee when the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox Court House and said he could not fathom how “anyone could fight a civil war based, in part, on the desire to continue the practice of slavery.”
Here’s an excerpt from his speech:
I think the time is right and the ground is fertile for us to make progress as a state and to come together and remove the Confederate battle flag from prominent statue outside the Statehouse and put it in the museum. It is time to acknowledge our past, atone for our sins and work towards a better future. That future must be built on symbols of peace, love, and unity. That future cannot be built on symbols of war, hate, and divisiveness.
I am aware of my heritage. But my appreciation for the things that my forebearers accomplished to make my life better doesn’t mean that I must believe that they always made the right decisions and, for the life of me, I will never understand how anyone could fight a civil war based, in part, on the desire to continue the practice of slavery. Think about it for just a second. Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves and continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of this heritage. These practices were inhumane and were wrong, wrong, wrong.
Now we have these hate groups and the symbols that they use to remind African Americans that things haven’t changed and that they are still viewed as less than equal human beings. Well, let me tell you: Things have changed. Overwhelmingly, people are not being raised to hate or to believe that they are superior to others based on the color of their skin. My generation was raised to respect all people, of every race, religion, and gender.
I have often wondered what is my purpose here, in the Senate. I’ve asked God to guide me and strengthen me. I have prayed that I will be able to make a difference for this state. I have prayed that I will leave this place better for the future generations. I am proud to take a stand and no longer be silent. I am proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the statehouse. But let it not satisfy us to stop there. Justice by halves is not justice. We must take down the confederate flag, and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a different conversation about healing in our state. I am ready. Let us start the conversation.