I am a daughter of Charleston and a daughter of the South. I grew up in Summerville and Sullivan’s Island, and my closest family members remain in those places today. For 11 years, I attended Porter-Gaud School. After graduating from high school, I attended college at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.
My roots in Charleston and the South are deep and well nourished. As the great-great-great granddaughter of George Alfred Trenholm, secretary of the Confederacy during the War Between the States, the Confederacy and its flag are part of my traceable history. Trenholm, a charismatic businessman and politician, used funds from his diverse business interests to buoy the South in its efforts against the Union. After we lost, he used them to rebuild the city of Charleston, decimated during that heartbreaking and historic conflict. He gave his family home to the city after the Civil War, and today that home is recognized as Ashley Hall School.
I am proud of my family’s history in our Holy City. One of my sons bears the Trenholm name. I have pieces of silver from his ships. I grew up hearing tales of his generosity and courage and charm. Our family has bequeathed more than a few of his belongings to museums in Charleston.
Like many across our nation, my heart is burdened with relentless sorrow since hearing of the carnage at Mother Emanuel. I wish to commend our state’s leaders for lovingly shepherding South Carolinians and the nation through the shock and pain loosed upon us by a young heart filled with darkest rage. The response of the people from Charleston to this tragedy has been extraordinary, exemplary in every way that matters, and that doesn’t surprise me a bit.
Like you, I know Charleston is special in ways that defy easy definition. My Irish husband’s people would call it a “thin place,” which is to a say a place in this world where the barrier between Heaven and Earth seems to barely exist and where, just for a blink, we can loose our death grip on life and see the Divine.
I’ve identified my bloodline and my Southern credibility for one reason; my genealogy and $3 will buy me a cup of nice coffee. I reveal it because I hope it will add perspective to the request that is the beating heart of this missive, my prayer to you, really.
And that prayer is this — please do whatever you can to remove the Confederate flag from flying on the grounds of our state government. To think of that flag waving in Columbia at full mast while my beloved city buried the bodies of our beautiful brethren, slaughtered because of the color of their skin, is more than I can bear. I am not alone in this sentiment. I am proud of my heritage, but I am not proud of the blasphemy under which the Confederate flag was designed by William T. Thompson. Thompson called it the White Man’s Flag and, of it, he said: “As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematic of our cause ... As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity and barbarism.”
From the beginning, the Confederate flag was imbued with a level of racism that is breathtaking in its moral repugnance. Confederate troops fought under it for scant two years. How then has it come to be held as a paragon symbol of Southern heritage? A nuanced study of the Civil War — before, during, after — allows us to recognize and be proud of a number of things, but thinking that God ordained the superior white man to own and rule the inferior black man is not one of those things. That my heritage would be reduced to that is unacceptable to me. It is unacceptable to any right thinking person.
Throughout history and into present day, the Confederate flag has been used time and again to foment the worst impulses of humanity.
I have seen my heritage in other places since June 17, though. I watched black people look a white man in the eye and forgive him for unpardonable sins. With my particular lineage, it’s not a stretch to think that my forebears may have had a hand in burning down Emanuel AME in 1822 after learning the black people there were planning rebellion.
Mother Emanuel forgave us then, too; on the firm bedrock of that forgiveness, her pilgrims rebuilt a steeple to the Lord and a church that is vital to all who live in our city today, no matter their shade of skin. How many times must our black fellows forgive us and call us to real holiness?
Those who think this opinion is some sort of misplaced privileged white guilt on my part miss the point. The identity I share with the parishioners of Mother Emanuel is the heritage that matters to me the most, and I admit to some embarrassment in formally mentioning it last.
I am Christian — a cradle Episcopalian with 16 years of church school education and 48 years of gathering in chapels and at altars across the South with fellow sojourners on a path that asks us daily to love God first and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Centuries ago my black neighbors were used and savaged under the banner of the Confederate flag. That particular time and the repulsive idea of white superiority that accompanied that old South are dead, thank God, but the flag that waves on our government grounds today sends a not-so-subtle message to my brothers and sisters in Christ that we miss the “good old days” of slavery.
In 2015, there is no room in our lives or our hearts for giving an ounce of respect to that sort of evil nonsense. Take it down. In the name of Cynthia and Susie and Ethel and DePayne and Clementa and Tywanza and Daniel and Sharonda and Myra, take it down. This symbolic act is necessary for all of us who love and embrace our new South.
I believe its reverberations will be felt across race and gender, across states and countries, across eternity.
When the Confederate flag is removed from our state grounds, Charleston will become even thinner. Then, in quiet moments, when we are still and calm in our hearts, the veil between worlds will blow aside and we will join hands with our brothers and sisters in Christ and hear our Lord say to each of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
That joy is the work of our South today, the continued work of building a region that is united, not fractured, and of serving each other with honesty and humility in the name of God.
The same blood that dried on Charleston fields hundreds of years ago and painted the walls in the basement of Emanuel AME two weeks ago beats in our hearts today.
Black and white, one people: we work together and pray together; we laugh together and cry together; we ask that our debts be forgiven even as we forgive the debts owed us; and we join hands across pews and bridges and centuries to discard the old ideas of the past and open ourselves to the beautiful hope of today and tomorrow.
May the circle be unbroken by and by.
Janice Walker Fahy lives in Marietta, Ga., with her husband and two sons. She is office manager of a law firm.