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Both Sides with Jesse Jackson

What Does the Confederate Flag Represent?

Aired January 23, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET


JESSE JACKSON, HOST: Welcome to BOTH SIDES. For nearly 150 years, the Confederate flag has been a source of pain and pride, and there is a hot debate about the symbol's appropriate place as America begins the 21st century.

Today, we're going to explore the different sides of this very divisive issue. Joining me from Columbus, South Carolina are two guests. Lake E. High Jr.: He is the former chairman of the South Carolina League of the South. And Dr. Lonnie Randolph: He is president of the Columbia, South Carolina NAACP chapter.

Welcome to the program.

We'll begin our discussion in a moment, but first, some background from John Bisney.


JOHN BISNEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For some, it represents heritage. For others, hatred.

DARRELL JACKSON (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: As long as that flag flies in that chamber and above this dome, then it will be very difficult to conduct the business of the Senate and the business of South Carolina.

BISNEY: South Carolina is the latest battleground over the Confederate flag, which flies above that state's Capitol along with the state and American flags. The NAACP is leading a tourism boycott of South Carolina until state lawmakers vote to remove the Confederate symbol.

On this year's Martin Luther King Day, nearly 50,000 protesters marched in South Carolina to demand the flag's removal. Controversy has even made its way into the presidential campaign. Vice President Al Gore and his challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bill Bradley, have both said the flag should come down. The top Republican candidates, Texas Governor George W. Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain say the issue is a local matter for South Carolinians to decide.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Confederate flag insist it's simply a symbol of South Carolina's heritage that honors Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War. Some of the state's Republican lawmakers have said they'll be willing to discuss a compromise with the NAACP, but only after the group halts its boycott.

ARTHUR RAVENEL (R), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: They'll be people that have got, you know, discord going in the general assembly between blacks and white, Democrats and Republicans.

BISNEY: Supporters and opponents of the Confederate flag remain far apart on its appropriate place in the 21st century. But there is widespread agreement that its symbolism continues to evoke strong emotions.

For BOTH SIDES, I'm John Bisney.


JACKSON: Mr. High...


JACKSON: The Confederate flag flew over the Civil War. More Americans were killed in that war than any other war before or since, a very divisive and bloody war, a threat to the Union. It flew (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and flew again over segregation in 1962. What does that flag mean to you?

HIGH: Well, I take a little different approach to this than most people. I think those of us in the League of the South do.

We see it as a sovereignty issue as opposed to a heritage issue. I know people who do see it that way, and that's fine with us. But we take a little different approach.

For instance, I noticed that that flag was flown when the Berlin Wall came down. It was out in the crowd being waved about joyfully in the face of this leftist tyranny that was being overturn. And I noticed that when the students marched against Milosevic, oh, about a year and a half ago, they carried the Confederate flag, waving it in his face, which was another leftist tyrant.

And as we speak, African troops in Eritrea, who are opposing the communist government in Ethiopia, use that battle flag on their personal...


JACKSON: But let's put this thing in the context of American history. The Confederates, believing in sovereignty, sought to secede from the Union. They sought to overthrow the government. They allied with a foreign power.

HIGH: They didn't seek to overthrow the government at all.

JACKSON: Well, they sought to take it over.

HIGH: No, absolutely not.

JACKSON: Well, of course...

HIGH: Not even once. They wanted to secede to get away from the government. They had no intention of overthrowing the government, none.

JACKSON: Well, to secede was to undermine the union of states. And therefore, a Civil War ensued.

HIGH: They didn't care about the Union states.

JACKSON: Well, indeed they didn't.

Dr. Lonnie Randolph, what does that flag mean to you?

LONNIE RANDOLPH, PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA NAACP: Well, regardless of meaning, the first thing I'd like to address is that the flag has no legal authority to be flying up on any -- above the statehouse dome in this state as well as in the House and chambers, where it's present and flying.

We have a state flag and a United States flag that represents the people of this state.

Getting to personal meanings, of course, I grew up in South Carolina. Every hate group in this state -- be it the Klan, the White Citizens Council, the Council of Conservative Citizens -- all of those groups rally around this symbol because of what that symbol depicts, what it has historically meant to those persons who worship it, and what it means to those people that they are also trying to victimize.

JACKSON: Let me -- let me...

RANDOLPH: There's no...

JACKSON: Let me ask you a question. I made a mistake. I referred to you as Roberts. I got Roberts in the brain, brother Randolph.


JACKSON: Let me -- let me ask you this: The number of people was thought to be 5,000, 10,000, then 50,000. The number caught seemingly everybody by surprise. What message did this send to lawmakers in South Carolina?

RANDOLPH: Well -- well, I think it should send a very resounding message that there is a large number of people across this country who support the efforts of the NAACP. While it may be a surprise to some people, the fact that we had in excess of 65,000 people there -- there are some persons who are saying 45,000 or 50,000, but our numbers show in the area of around 65,000 people attended that march: people from all across the United States, representing all racial backgrounds, representing all religious backgrounds, showing that they want South Carolina to be a part of the 21st century and that South Carolina should resign itself from wanting to continue a war, fighting a war that has no basis for being part of our present-day society. JACKSON: Mr. High...

RANDOLPH: I hope the...

JACKSON: One of the things that Lonnie brings out here is that this is not just about the issue of blacks and the emancipation from slavery, but for all the veterans who fought for the American flag, which defeated the Confederates and the Confederate flag and preserved the union of states. It seems that the majority of South Carolinians, white and black, disagree with that flag flying above -- above that Capitol.

What is your league about? What is your organization about?

HIGH: By the way, if the majority of South Carolinians oppose it, all they've got to do is put it up for referendum, which is what we've been saying for the last couple of years. But of course, they wouldn't touch a referendum...

JACKSON: Well, there was a referendum in 1863, 1864 and 1865, and the Confederates were defeated...

HIGH: We were thinking one a little more updated than that.

JACKSON: Well -- a union of states. The United States flag won. The Confederates lost.

HIGH: No question about it. We're in the Union because we were marched back in at bayonet point. You're dead right about that.

JACKSON: So you don't to be in the Union?

HIGH: Oh, absolutely not. The League of the South...

JACKSON: Wait, wait, wait. You don't want to be in the Union?

HIGH: No, no. No, not at all.

JACKSON: You're still fighting for secession?

HIGH: Absolutely. The League of the South is a secessionist group.

JACKSON: Which means that if you have your way, you're willing to again to fight on the same principle as the 19th century: for secession, for sovereignty...

HIGH: No, I would fight on today's principle. I would fight for state sovereignty, which is what we were fighting for in the 1860s, as a matter of course.

What -- what has happened, Reverend Jackson, that I was alluding to when my first monologue was interrupted slightly there, because, bless your heart, you wanted to move the show right along -- and I understand that.


HIGH: But we've got a leftist problem here in this country. It has become a socialist country, socialist-leftist country. And a lot of us in the South don't like that. We don't want that. We want to be politically away from that, just like the people in Berlin wanted to be away from it, just like the people in Yugoslavia.

There are people in South Carolina who want to be away from that, just as our ancestors wanted to be away from a central government in 1860.

JACKSON: But let us say, Dr. Lonnie Randolph is from South Carolina.

HIGH: Yes.

JACKSON: He is a Southerner. Students at the Citadel who marched under the American flag, they are Southerners. And it seems as if this idea of secession and sovereignty is still challenging the very core of the principle of the United States of America.

We'll be right back and -- we're going to come back and talk more about that in just a moment. We'll be right back.



GOV. JIM HODGES (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: We must move the flag from the dome to a place of historical significance on the statehouse grounds. The debate over the Confederate flag has claimed too much of our time and energy, energy that can be better put to use building schools, improving health care and recruiting jobs for our state.


JACKSON: Welcome back. We're talking about the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag. Lake E. High Jr. of the South Carolina League of the South, and Dr. Lonnie Randolph, president of Columbia, South Carolina's NAACP.

Dr. Randolph, President Clinton has said the flag should come down. Vice President Gore. Both of them are sons of the South. And the governor said the flag should come down. Why did the governor take this stand?

RANDOLPH: Well, I hope that the governor took the stand because it's the right thing to do. He is governor and he's the leader of all the people and the leader of this state. And he wants South Carolina to be a progressive state and move forward to the 21st century. He should do what is right for all citizens of this state. He is the governor of all the people.

We are better than a third of the population. We have a voice. That house that he sits in and signs those bills, that belongs to the people of South Carolina, It is the people's house. JACKSON: Mr. High, what are your thoughts about the governor's stand? The governor of South Carolina said the flag should come down.

HIGH: Well, Governor Hodges, before he got elected, met with some people who had been Republicans, and who probably still are, flag supporters, and told them that if they would support him, that he wouldn't mention the flag. They supported him, and 50,000 Republicans -- about 50,000, might have been a hair less, but it was more than 44 -- who had voted for Beasley before switched their votes and voted for Hodges, which elected him by a landslide, by the way.

JACKSON: Do you think that most Republicans choose the Confederate flag over the American flag?

HIGH: Well, I don't know if they'd choose it over the American flag. But they had a referendum back in '96 where 77 percent of them said that, in the Republican primary, said that it should fly.

Now, what has happened is the governor has broken his word, just like Beasley did, which means he will be a one-term governor. And I'm sorry to say that because I supported him and I think he's a heck of a nice fellow.

But you just can't break your word to people that helped get you elected and then expect to go back in.

JACKSON: But -- but won't you at some point concede that we should end the Civil War: its divisiveness, its...

HIGH: Oh, indeed. The Civil War was ended in '65.

JACKSON: Don't you celebrate the union of states and the end of slavery. America is great today because the Confederates lost, If the Confederates had won, we couldn't have the Super Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. We could not have blacks and white at the University of South Carolina (UNINTELLIGIBLE) together.

HIGH: You don't know that.

JACKSON: I mean, the Confederacy did not even support desegregation of facilities as late as 1964. And so how would you carry on the divisive, painful display of a war lost that has been proven to be good for America?

HIGH: Reverend Jackson, you do have a way of jumping back and forth in terms of history. You say Confederates opposed something in the 1950s or '60s. Confederates stopped in 1865.

There were several questions in there that you had, and gosh, I'd like to address them all, but one of them being don't you think we ought to quit fighting the Civil War. And the answer to that is we quit fighting the Civil War in 1865. We're fighting a new one now, and it's the same, basically the same thing. That is we want to -- we argue self-determination.

The United Nations recognizes self-determination for all people. We do too.

So the fight against a central leftist government goes on, whether you call it continuation of the same or a new one or whatever.

JACKSON: But Randolph, there in South Carolina, those who fight for secession and who fight for sovereignty, who resist the union of states are now facing an awesome boycott led by the NAACP and other organizations. What's the impact of that boycott on South Carolina?

RANDOLPH: The tourism boycott has been very successful. At the National Convention in July, the South Carolina conference of branches of the NAACP, under the leadership -- the great leadership of President James Gallman of Aiken, South Carolina -- introduced a resolution, an emergency resolution, that was adopted unanimously to deal with this issue, to address the problem of the Confederate flag flying in position of sovereignty and authority in the state and after we decided that we would impose economic sanctions against the tourism industry in the state of South Carolina: because all other attempts to deal with this issue fell on deaf ears.

We tried the diplomatic approach. It did not work. We tried dealing with it from a moral standpoint. It did not work. We tried dealing with it from a just standpoint or view. It did not work.

But from our history, we've always found out that when all else fails, the dollar does work.

JACKSON: I hate to cut you off Dr. Randolph, but you and Mr. High will be right back.


LAURA BUSH, WIFE OF GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: It's not a symbol of racism to me. I grew up in the South, like everyone else here in Texas. And it's just a symbol of a time in our history that we can't erase really, the Civil War. And you know, it's just -- that's the symbol of the Civil War, I think.



JACKSON: Welcome back. Mr. High...

HIGH: Yes, sir.

JACKSON: ... some see this Confederate flag as representing sovereignty, separation, secession, sedition, slavery. They see it as a swastika, as -- as ugly as that is.

Why shouldn't it be seen that way?

HIGH: Well, you know, interesting that you should mention the swastika, because the swastika is viewed as a symbol of good luck and good fortune.

JACKSON: But not in Germany.

HIGH: Well, no, but in Asia. But not here.

JACKSON: And -- and -- and not...

HIGH: You've got it. So the point is, is the person viewing it is the one who decides what the symbol is. So if they see it as a symbol of hate, then that's their problem.

JACKSON: So you're saying -- you're saying the Jews overreact to swastika and blacks overreact to...

HIGH: I didn't say that. I specifically said...

JACKSON: ... the Confederate flag.

HIGH: I didn't say that at all. I specifically said that people in Asia see it differently from the people over here. And therefore, the way you see it...

JACKSON: But people were not -- people in Asia -- people in Asia were not driven to the ovens under that flag. And people in...

HIGH: Regardless of the reason of why people do it, they see it differently. So people can legitimately see things differently.

By the way, while we're discussing, Lonnie, bless his heart, was unable to give you some good information that he thought he did. He told you that the boycott had gone very well. Actually, the NAACP boycott has failed miserably. Now, the reason he doesn't know that is because he keeps reading the state newspaper.

JACKSON: Dr. Randolph...

RANDOLPH: Yes. I don't -- you know, it's so unfortunate that those persons who probably have great difficulty even knowing what the NAACP stands for know more about the organization than those of us who are intimately involved in it.

JACKSON: But I thought...

RANDOLPH: Since July 15th -- since July 15th, we've had over 125 cancellations of major events in the state. Now, maybe there's a difficulty with Mr. High being able to count those 120...

HIGH: No, the...

RANDOLPH: ... the 120 -- let me finish -- 125 conventions, not to mention the over 75 to 100 family reunions that have left this state along with other initiatives that we have in place.

Now, I don't know if you heard any of the speakers today at the rally on Monday, but there were several representing major industries and major companies throughout this country who are about to join forces with the NAACP to help us intensify our efforts. And it's a simple effort. All we are asking is to be treated as human beings and be included, as other people are, in this state.

The heritage folks, they don't have a patent on heritage...

HIGH: Those numbers are wrong. His numbers are wrong.

RANDOLPH: Every individual in this state -- every individual in this state -- every individual in this state has a right to heritage. The heritage act that they introduced was their heritage act. It was not a heritage act for people of color.

HIGH: Bless his hear.

JACKSON: Randolph, we're going to come right back and ask for the implication of this for the presidential campaign in the year 2000. We'll be right back.


JACKSON: In our final segment, Columbia, South Carolina's NAACP head, Dr. Lonnie Randolph, and Lake E. High Jr. of the South Carolina League of the South.

Mr. Lake...

HIGH: Yes, sir.

JACKSON: ... George Bush seems to embrace the flag. He says it's your right. Does that gain him votes in South Carolina?

HIGH: Well, if he embraced the flag, it probably would, because all the people who vote for him are in the Republican Party, in the primary at least, and the ones who vote against him, the Democrats. It's like -- Dr. Randolph here mentioning 65,000 people at the statehouse. All 65,000 of those people vote Democrat anyway. So, that isn't going to make any difference in a Republican primary.


HIGH: He didn't embrace the flag. He merely said that it was a South Carolina issue. That's the difference.

JACKSON: Well, states' rights is essentially the same. And then, of course, Mr. McCain, who was in prison for -- prisoner of war for five years under the American flag, now he says it represented slavery and racism. And next day, he stepped backwards.

What moved Mr. McCain to step back closer to the Confederate flag?

HIGH: Beats me. Probably some of his advisers got in touch with him and told him that beating up, taking anti-flag positions certainly wouldn't help him in a Republican primary.

JACKSON: The simple point is that we choose the Americana flag over the Confederate flag. We choose a union. And most Americans are glad that we have a United States and not a North and South America, as it were.

Dr. Randolph, in closing, what do you see as the national ramification for this flag for the year 2000 campaign?

RANDOLPH: Well, our efforts will continue. Right now, we feel that we're in a very good position and situation with the support that we've gotten from across the country, both nationally, international support. And we have a system in place, we have a mechanism in place that whenever we need to intensify our efforts, based on progress being made, or the lack of progress being made, we will do that.

If I can back up just one second...

JACKSON: Dr. Randolph, you really can't because...


JACKSON: ... this has been so exciting, the time has run out.


HIGH: You ought to have an hour-show, Reverend.

JACKSON: We will the next time. This has really been a two- century show here, but it seems that -- it's a theme that has no end.

That's all for this week's program. I'll be back next Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. One nation under God, liberty and justice for all. One flag. Let's find common ground.

Until then, thanks for watching and keep hope alive.


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