In ru­ral S.C., Con­fed­er­ate flags fly off store shelves

One shop­keeper and his cus­tomers cite South­ern her­itage

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY JEREMY BOR­DEN dan.morse@wash­ na­tional@wash­

abbeville, s.c. — Three peo­ple stood in line re­cently at the South­ern Pa­triot Shop, Con­fed­er­ate flags tucked un­der their arms, wait­ing their turn to check out at the cash register.

Owner Robert Hayes, a 75year-old with crow’s feet and a lin­ger­ing smile, had a bit of ad­vice for his cus­tomers be­fore they headed back out into a world they say is drift­ing fur­ther and fur­ther from the Amer­ica they be­lieve in.

“Don’t dis­play them in your house but out­side of your house,” Hayes said. “We need to be mak­ing a state­ment to the peo­ple that know their history and know that [the flag is] not what it’s be­ing ac­cused of.”

That sen­ti­ment is grow­ing among many in this ru­ral part of South Carolina and around the South. Many for­mer sup­port­ers say they now un­der­stand why the flag should come down from its prom­i­nent perch in South Carolina’s capi­tol com­plex. But oth­ers, es­pe­cially well out­side of Columbia, are stunned at the turn on the flag af­ter photos sur­faced of al­leged Charleston church shooter Dy­lann Roof pos­ing with the flag.

Early Satur­day, the flag came down briefly from the front of the State House af­ter Bree New­some, 30, a North Carolina ed­u­ca­tor and ac­tivist from Char­lotte, scaled the 30-foot pole and de­tached it. She brought it down the pole and was ar­rested; author­i­ties later re-raised the flag.

In Charleston, peo­ple gath­ered out­side Emanuel AME Church, where a fu­neral was about to take place for one of the nine vic­tims, had mixed re­ac­tions. Low­ell Collins, 59, thought it was an in­evitable part of ef­forts to re­move the ban­ner. “I’m sur­prised that it took this long,” said Collins, who lives in Falls Church, Va.

His friend Diane D. Gil­lie had con­cerns that the act would dis­rupt mo­men­tum and give flag sup­port­ers some­thing to stand be­hind.

“I hope these kind of things don’t take away from the pos­i­tive pro­cesses that are in place,” she said. Gil­lie, 58, works in Columbia, two blocks from the Con­fed­er­ate flag on the capi­tol grounds. She said she tries to ig­nore it when she walks past.

“I think there’s a place for it, and that’s a mu­seum,” she said.

Later in the morn­ing, about 50 peo­ple ex­press­ing sup­port for the flag took their con­cerns to the state capi­tol, wav­ing Con­fed­er­ate flags and chant­ing “Her­itage, not hate!” at pass­ing cars.

Shan­non Blume, a 36-year-old from the Columbia area, said at the protest that she would push state lead­ers to put the is­sue to a statewide ref­er­en­dum. “It doesn’t stand for racism,” she said. “It stands for states’ rights and no big gov­ern­ment.”

South­ern politi­cians have lined up to say they dis­agree, in­clud­ing South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley (R). In the emo­tional af­ter­math of the gun­ning down of nine peo­ple in­side Emanuel AME, in­clud­ing pas­tor and state Sen. Cle­menta Pinck­ney, state lead­ers have said that they can no longer ig­nore the pain the flag causes African Amer­i­cans. Re­tail­ers Ama­zon and Wal-Mart have yanked Con­fed­er­ate-em­bla­zoned wares and flags from phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal shelves.

In this part of ru­ral South Carolina, seem­ingly far away from the pry­ing eyes of a shocked world, those seek­ing out new Con­fed­er­ate items said they will not be silent as the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­tinue to wage a war, in their words, on South­ern her­itage and history.

Hayes, a mem­ber of the League of the South, a pride or­ga­ni­za­tion con­sid­ered by some to be a hate group, said he’ll prob­a­bly ben­e­fit from the mar­ket­place’s dearth of Con­fed­er­ate flags, although his store is about far more than mak­ing a buck. Con­fed­er­ate themed knick­knacks in­clude phone cov­ers, books, vests, lighters, shirts, stick­ers, bathing suits, pins, belts, mag­nets and post­cards, plus dozens of his­tor­i­cal flags.

Shop­pers and Hayes said they were hor­ri­fied and sad­dened by the shoot­ings. But Hayes said that tar­get­ing the flag is the same as go­ing af­ter the Rice-A-Roni and ra­men noo­dles that Roof re­port­edly ate.

“The blacks that say it’s racist — they are the racists,” said Joyce Davis Wareshoals, a 66-year-old from Abbeville. “That’s their her­itage as much as it is our her­itage.”

Hayes pulls out a well-worn manila folder. In­side are pic­tures of the Ku Klux Klan march­ing with U.S. flags over their shoul­ders.

“The U.S. flag, the U.S. flag, the U.S. flag!” Hayes said.

By the end of the day Thurs­day, Hayes said his shelves were nearly empty. He’d sold more than 100 flags — a store record, he said. “And we’re a lit­tle, small, out-ofthe-way town,” he said. His sup­plier also told him that he was sold out and wouldn’t be able to de­liver ad­di­tional flags un­til the next week. De­Neen Brown and Dan Morse in Charleston con­trib­uted to this re­port.


Bree New­some, a North Carolina ed­u­ca­tor and ac­tivist, takes down the Con­fed­er­ate flag at the capi­tol com­plex in Columbia, S.C.

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