To South Carolina's top NAACP leader, President Barack Obama's decision to pay tribute to Confederate soldiers on Memorial Day was just as wrong as it would be to honor Adolph Hitler or ignore the devastation caused by the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Lonnie Randolph said Thursday that he is drafting a letter on behalf of the state chapter of the NAACP to criticize the president's action. He said he plans to say just how disappointed he is that Obama would recognize the very men who died, as Randolph sees it, trying to keep men who look like the president out of the White House.
"What I am speaking and preaching for is justice and equality for all people," Randolph said. "Very few people will stand up for that."
To Randall B. Burbage of Hanahan, commander of the state division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, what Randolph is doing is making a mean-spirited attack on the country's heritage.
Any comparison between Confederate soldiers and Nazis is outrageous, Burbage said. Unlike the president's gesture to unite the country, Randolph's comments force a wedge between the races, he said. That could be especially true in a place like South Carolina, where cherishing heritage is a way of life.
"This outburst from Lonnie Randolph is vintage from him," Burbage said. "What he's doing is in a sense pitting one South Carolinian against another."
Charleston NAACP branch President Dot Scott and U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a lifetime member of the organization, also weighed in Thursday on Obama's actions.
Scott said she finds no conflict with South Carolinians who want to celebrate their own heritage. She applauded the president for his attempt to be respectful. Clyburn was of the same mind.
"I think President Obama was very wise the other day when he paid respect to the Confederate soldiers who died," he said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Presidents have traditionally sent wreaths to the Confederate Memorial, and Obama extended the honor to the black union soldiers, according to the Associated Press.
The president's actions followed a protest outside the White House last week by about 60 professors who wanted Obama, as the first black president, to not recognize the Civil War soldiers from the Southern states that made up the Confederacy.
According to the petitioners, "The Arlington Confederate Monument is a denial of the wrong committed against African-Americans by slave owners, Confederates and neo-Confederates."
Randolph said his perspective is grounded in history.
"It's not about hating," he said. "It's about being respectful and telling the truth."
Burbage said Randolph must be reading different history books than he has. Burbage said the Confederate soldiers fought for freedom and states' rights from an overreaching federal government. He said his organization is an historic honor society that has a policy against hate groups.
Randolph's comments came as debate continued over the NAACP's boycott of South Carolina. The organization imposed economic and tourism sanctions on the state when a legislative compromise in 2000 moved the battle flag from atop the Statehouse dome to a memorial for the Civil War soldiers on the grounds.
"This state has been suffering all of its history because of the lack of leadership, and it continues today because of lack of leadership," Randolph said.
During a campaign debate in Orangeburg in April 2007, Obama said the flag belongs in a museum.