One of my foremost protagonists once posited, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and moments of comfort, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy." Also, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal." These two quotes have shaped my character since my early adult years. I seldom address matters that do not directly involve me, but the possible selection of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the next president of the College of Charleston is of such overwhelming importance that I cannot sit idly and say nothing. This column does not take issue with Lt. Gov. McConnell's stance on the Confederacy, the nature of his past or present Confederate memorabilia business or his passion for Confederate history. But I do take strong issue with his support and defense of the Confederate flag on sovereign state grounds - a position that perpetuates the racial divide in South Carolina and beyond. For the C of C president to hold such a stance would precipitate problems with African-American students and faculty.
For African-Americans, flying the Confederate flag on sovereign grounds is an audacious affront. Lt. Gov. McConnell was a senior state senator before assuming his present position and was perhaps the strongest supporter of flying the flag on the Statehouse grounds.
As president of the College of Charleston, how would he respond to African-American students and faculty when they see Confederate symbols displayed in the president's office? Would they consider him fair and concerned about their problems? How would they react if ultra-conservative students are emboldened to hang Confederate symbols on dormitory doors, windows and hallways? What if this confusion disrupts the campus? How could he intervene when his leadership provokes the disruptions?
As a history buff, Lt. Gov. McConnell must know the Confederate flag is a symbol that humiliates, degrades and reminds African-Americans of a vicious time in history.
Many whites, specifically Southern whites, cannot fathom the anguish the Confederate flag causes African-Americans. It represents a time when African-Americans had no rights that whites were bound to respect - the nadir of citizenship. They were never afforded the respectability of being called mister; their nicknames were derogatory; they were treated as inferior. The "strange fruit" (lynching) was once a quasi-virtuous, popular trend.
The Confederate flag was placed on South Carolina's sovereign property in 1962 to protest newly-won civil rights for African-Americans. Lt. Gov. McConnell must know this. He has a right to fly the Confederate flag on private property in spite of his critics. This is a right guaraneed by the First Amendment.
However, I could never support his presidency of an educational institution while he supports flying the flag on sovereign grounds. Regretfully, his name within the African-American community is synonymous with the continuation of the racial divide within South Carolina.
Lt. Gov. McConnell has been very effective in his present position and was previously as a state senator; he is well-liked by many and has a commendable record; he is influential and could bring his network to the presidency of the college. However, an academician would be better suited to lead the College of Charleston than a state politician with no higher-education experience. His political position and power in a sense provides him an unearned advantage over others who have worked in higher education.
Many believe the selection of Lt. Gov. McConnell is a foregone conclusion. Perhaps so. Nonetheless, the College of Charleston Board of Trustees could opt to be courageous enough not to do what is best for one of South Carolina's favorite sons, but to follow the sublime creed of great educators - "Do what is best for students." The board should be blind to political string-pulling and speak up on the right side of challenge and controversy. The selection of Lt. Gov. McConnell would be divisive, and could engender cultural insensitivity towards African-American students and faculty and other minority groups. Liberal and moderate white students and faculty would also question his leadership. Finally, his qualifications do not measure up to those of the academicians who are far more qualified to lead all College of Charleston students and other stakeholders.
Henry E. Darby represents District 4 on Charleston County Council.
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