Confederate flag controversy and NAACP boycott resurface amid talk of football bowl game in Charleston
In 2007 South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier kicked up a fuss, as he is wont to do. This time, it was over the Confederate battle flag.
“I realize I'm not supposed to get into the political arena as a football coach,” Spurrier said. “But if anybody were to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it.”
The battle flag was raised again as an economic issue in South Carolina on Friday, when organizers of a proposed college football bowl game in Charleston held a meeting of community leaders to pitch the idea.
The new Legends Bowl (the name is subject to change) would be held starting in December 2014 at The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium.
It would pit teams from the Sun Belt and Mid-American conferences and bring an estimated annual economic impact of about $6 million to the Lowcountry.
But it won't happen without the approval of the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, which has enforced a moratorium on “pre-determined sites” in South Carolina since 2001, because of the flag. The moratorium is backed by the state NAACP and its economic boycott of South Carolina.
Through the years, the moratorium has cost the state the chance to host NCAA Tournament basketball games, routinely held in cities such as Charlotte and Raleigh but not in Columbia's 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena. A South Carolina city hasn't hosted an NCAA basketball regional since Greenville did in 2002.
In 2004, an effort to bring a bowl game called the “Palmetto Bowl” to Charleston did not pass NCAA muster. In 2009, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it would bring its baseball tournament to Myrtle Beach for three years; the ACC changed its mind after learning the NAACP did not support the move.
And in recent years, the University of South Carolina's nationally ranked women's basketball team, led by African-American coach and Hall of Fame inductee Dawn Staley, has been unable to play NCAA Tournament games at home due to the moratorium.
Who's to blame for this mess? There's plenty to go around.
Few non-religious symbols inspire more passion than flags. Soldiers have died to keep them from touching the ground, protesters have burned them to show their rage, and The Star-Spangled Banner attests to their powerful symbolism.
And there are certainly passionate views about the display on government property of the Confederate battle flag. Supporters of displaying the flag at the South Carolina Statehouse focus on heritage and history, while opponents believe the 1962 decision to fly the flag was a racist response to integration.
The flag went up atop the Statehouse during the centennial commemoration of the Civil War (1861-1865), but also amid the civil rights movement and the court-ordered desegregation of public schools.
In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court had decided the Brown versus Board of Education case, directing states in 1955 to desegregate public schools “with all deliberate speed” — a process South Carolina completed in 1970. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were passed in 1964 and 1965.
Neighboring Georgia adopted a state flag that incorporated a Confederate battle flag in 1956, also prompting rival claims about heritage and hate. Georgia replaced that flag in 2001 and is not subject to a flag-related boycott.
South Carolina took the battle flag off the Statehouse in 2000 but moved it to a location that opponents say is even more prominent, on the Statehouse grounds at Main and Gervais streets in front of the Capitol, next to a Confederate war memorial.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People first threatened economic sanctions against South Carolina, aimed at forcing the Confederate battle flag's removal from the Statehouse, in 1994. That same year Columbia Mayor Bob Coble sued to force the flag's removal.
After efforts by Coble and by Gov. David Beasley failed to bring down the flag, in 1999 the National NAACP called for a tourism boycott of South Carolina, and some groups responded by cancelling conventions and meetings in the state. The boycott took hold in 2000, prompting rallies at the Statehouse by the opposing sides.
Pro basketball's New York Knicks cancelled a pre-playoff camp in Charleston that year to honor the boycott, and U.S. Open champion Serena Williams withdrew from the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament for the same reason in early 2000, although she did play in years that followed.
By April 2000, state lawmakers were working on a compromise, and later that year the flag was moved from the Statehouse dome and from the House and Senate chambers, and began flying at a monument for Confederate soldiers on the grounds of the Capitol.
The NAACP, however, found the new location unsatisfactory, and the boycott continued.
“We're just as serious about the need to remove it from where it's flying as we've ever been,” Dot Scott, president of the NAACP Charleston chapter, said Friday. The national NAACP referred a reporter to the state chapter director, who did not respond to calls and an email seeking comment.
The S.C. Legislature, which started the flag controversy in 1962, jumped back into the fray in 1994 when the NAACP threatened sanctions and Coble sued to bring the flag down. In 1995 the Legislature gave itself sole authority to keep or remove the flag, prompting the state Supreme Court to dismiss Coble's lawsuit. Beasley the following year called for the flag's removal — a position widely believed to have cost him the 1998 gubernatorial election.
Two years later, as sporting events were being canceled due to the boycott, lawmakers led by then-senators Glenn McConnell and Robert Ford, of Charleston, crafted a compromise. The seemingly odd couple — McConnell, a white Republican and Civil War buff, and Ford, a black Democrat and civil rights activist — agreed that the flag would be moved, and the state would recognize both Confederate Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day as holidays.
Since then, lawmakers have taken the position that the battle flag controversy was settled. Rep. Chip Limehouse cited the compromise deal in a 2009 editorial, calling on the NAACP to lift the boycott.
“It has been well documented by the media that the NAACP's boycott of South Carolina has cost our state dearly with failed economic development efforts and lost tourism dollars,” he said.
In 2011 Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, said that as South Carolina's first minority chief executive, Gov. Nikki Haley should take the flag down.
Haley, through a spokesman, said she considered the issue long-settled and repeated that position Friday.
“The flag compromise that occurred over a decade ago addressed a very sensitive subject in a way that the majority of South Carolina could accept,” said Doug Mayer, Haley's spokesman. “Outside groups are free to voice their concerns and problems with it, but revisiting this issue is not part of the governor's agenda.”
The NCAA began enforcing a ban on championship events at “pre-determined sites” in South Carolina in 2001, and expanded that ban to include bowl games in 2004. South Carolina and Mississippi are the only two states now affected by the moratorium.
Some view the NCAA's stance as inconsistent at best, hypocritical at worst.
For example, the “pre-determined sites” language allows Clemson and South Carolina to host NCAA regional baseball games, and the NCAA signs off on the Charleston Classic basketball tournament, which has been held at College of Charleston since 2008.
In 2009, the NCAA even allowed the Division II Pioneer Bowl football game to be held at Benedict College in Columbia, despite the objections of the state NAACP.
“A bowl game in Charleston would be wonderful,” said state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, who was at Friday's bowl-game meeting. “Making it happen is another question. From what I've heard, the NCAA has pretty much assigned their discretion to the NAACP.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report