Of recent, Gov. Haley was inundated with praise for removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. African-Americans along with liberals and progressives can appreciate the move as it was a start to neo-racial healing within the state. But such a move was initially not of her own volition. It was a reaction, perhaps inevitable, to the forgiving nature of the families who lost loved ones in the Emanuel slayings, the killing of a state senator, the behavior of Charleston’s African-American community, which eschewed violent direct action, and the sensitive handling of the slayings by a former mayor and present chief of police.
Prior to the Emanuel Nine, Gov. Haley had little interest in the divisive symbol, evincing no moral courage about its removal. As a matter of fact, she defended the flying of the flag. She counted votes knowing the majority of South Carolinians wanted the flag to remain and that Republican office-holders were often punished if they favored removal. Her election and subsequent approval of her governance was seemingly more important than what was morally correct. In an attempt to demonstrate the flag was not a serious issue, and that race was not a problem in South Carolina, she gave the canned response that South Carolina “elected its first Indian-American female governor” and “appointed its first African-American U.S. senator” — sidestepping the flag controversy. The no-more-sidestepping came after pressure was applied after the Emanuel Nine slayings.
Gov. Haley was politically prompted by national Republican leaders such as Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich — particularly the former two who made their anti-Confederate flag views well-known even when the subject-matter was unpopular. They stood as true leaders who would rather lose votes, prestige, and position than to skirt around such a controversial issue.
The private sector also played a major role in the removal of the flag. Big businesses such as Apple, Salesforce, NASCAR, Microsoft, Twitter, Airbnb, Michelin, BMW, Boeing, Volvo, and Wal-Mart gave added pressure when the governor’s office was called or when they publicly stated their positions.
Gov. Haley cannot boast that she spear headed the removal of the flag. The distinction does not belong to her. It belongs to those politicians, private businesses, and everyday people who were committed to the removal without being pressed to do so.
Even during the aftermath, if Gov. Haley were innately concerned about the flag why has she not made a call for the removal of the symbol at The Citadel? Is not the flag there just as defiantly unjust as it was at the Statehouse? Is not the flag at The Citadel in greater proximity to the Emanuel AME Church than the flag at the Statehouse? Where is her courage, political indignation, and leadership now?
One can commend Gov. Haley, however, for listening and adhering to the suggestions and admonitions, and persuading her fellow Republicans to join suit in the flag’s removal. Her leadership was belated but without the Republican party‘s vote, the flag would not have been removed; and acclaim should be given to her for that measure.
But to give the governor first credit for the removal of the flag is not fair. The credit justly goes to others — known and unknown — who placed their careers, businesses, and friendships on the line. They are the ones who should be praised and thanked. True leaders do not wait for beckoning to do what is morally right. They move immediately to right wrongs and say to their followers, “Come on!”
Henry E. Darby serves on Charleston County Council.