College of Charleston board members adopted a resolution Wednesday that supports removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds, although the school’s president remained noticeably silent.
The flag debate has taken on a personal tone at the college, which sits just blocks from Emanuel AME Church, where nine black parishioners were gunned down last week while studying the Bible, including one of the college’s own.
Cynthia Hurd, its longest-serving part-time librarian, was among those killed. Board members agreed unanimously to name one of its most prestigious scholarships after her.
In addition, a friend of accused gunman Dylann Roof told news outlets that Roof initially targeted the college.
“This is an important moment for the board of trustees, who speak on behalf of this institution,” Chairman Gregory Padgett said. “(We’re) reaffirming the College of Charleston’s commitment to being a safe, welcoming, inclusive community.”
But college President Glenn McConnell remained mum on the issue, raising concerns among some faculty and staff, as well as local black leaders. Presidents of South Carolina’s other major colleges voiced strong support for removing the flag after Gov. Nikki Haley’s call on Monday for the General Assembly to do so.
A former lieutenant governor and president pro tempore of the state Senate, McConnell has deflected requests for comment since last week’s arrest of Roof, a white man with a penchant for Confederate iconography. McConnell was at the meeting but didn’t speak and has no vote. Board member Cherry Daniel also abstained from voting.
McConnell won’t comment on the matter until after the victims’ funerals. “He doesn’t think it’s appropriate,” college spokesman Mike Robertson said.
Outside the Statehouse, McConnell is best known for his unapologetic support of Confederate heritage. In 2000, he was a key player in negotiating a legislative deal to move the flag from atop the Statehouse dome to fly instead at the Confederate Soldier Monument, which sits at the walkway leading to the capitol building’s steps.
An ardent Civil War re-enactor and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he owned a Confederate souvenir shop in North Charleston until 2006.
Following his controversial appointment by the board last spring, hundreds of students protested outside the president’s office in Randolph Hall. The college’s Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution of “no confidence” in the board’s presidential search process. One donor publicly resigned from the school’s Foundation Board.
In a May interview with The Post and Courier, McConnell brushed off his opponents who criticized his participation in Confederate re-enactments.
“I start out by saying re-enactments are living history lessons. I was kind of somewhat puzzled by why someone would quarrel with teaching history. It goes against the very essence of academic freedom and diversity,” he said. “I told them from the start, judge me by my record.”
However, his silence now is drawing the ire of black leaders who feel change and healing is most needed now.
“Among state-supported schools, it leaves the College of Charleston as obvious in our area for its absence and conspicuous silence,” said the Rev. Nelson Rivers III, a former national NAACP leader and a current vice president of the National Action Network.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, whose district was site of the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, called it a plantation mind-set for white leaders to avoid commenting on the flag debate by hiding behind black victims and their families — who do want to see the flag taken down.
“If not now, when?” Cobb-Hunter asked. “This shooter made it appropriate. In politics in this state, for action to occur we’ve got to get moving while the public is interested and engaged.”
Seeing this tragedy provoke change would help bring families healing, she added.
“It’s great to go to a funeral and cry and clap,” Cobb-Hunter said. “What I want to see is leadership.”
George Hopkins, professor of history emeritus who still teaches part time, said the campus is alight with emails and phone calls among people wanting McConnell to state his position, whatever it is.
“It diminishes his stature as president and harms the college as far as perception,” Hopkins said. “He owes the college and the larger South Carolina community to let us know. He’s a public official in high public office.”
As a result of the board’s resolution, the Colonial Scholarship, a full academic scholarships for in-state students, has been renamed the Cynthia Graham Hurd Memorial Scholarship. Twelve are awarded each year.
“Cynthia was an incredibly valuable member of our community,” said Dean of Libraries John White. “This is what we stand for, this love of community spirit that Cynthia embodied.”
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