Confederate flag's removal gets unexpected support Thurmond among several to back S.C. governor


ATLANTA -- It was no surprise that many black leaders in South Carolina supported Gov. David Beasley's appeal, in a statewide television address, to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol. Nor was it a surprise when some conservative white state officials called him a traitor and accused him of trading his heritage for a chance to be seen as "politically correct."

But the morning after Beasley's somewhat gingerly appeal to relocate the flag to a Confederate memorial on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia, the first-term Republican governor is finding some influential support from unexpected sources among the state's past and present political leadership.

Sen. Strom Thurmond, a political force for longer than many South Carolinians have been alive, sent a note of support, as did Rep. Bob Inglis and former Govs. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. and James Edwards. All four are Republicans. Three former Democratic governors, Robert McNair, John West and Richard W. Riley, who is now the U.S. secretary of education, also supported the governor.

"Unfortunately, the presence of the battle flag over the Capitol has moved past its intended purpose of paying tribute to those who served South Carolina during the Civil War," wrote Thurmond in his letter to Beasley.

South Carolina has been home time and time again over the past year to racial incidents, including church burnings and a drive-by shooting of blacks at a rural nightclub by two men with Ku Klux Klan loyalties. It is home, in Laurens, to the nation's only Klan museum, and last week in Manning a white couple was found guilty of tying a black child to a tree, choking him and shooting a shotgun past his head, to frighten him.

In his address, Beasley said that some have come to see the flag only as a racial standard, and over time it has become a symbol of hatred, not heritage. Others, like Campbell, agreed.

"The flag is being used now to sow hate," said Campbell. "This, in my opinion, will end the controversy and bring people closer."

Beasley began his address on Tuesday by praising the flag and the proud feeling he and others have in it, but made it clear that something had to be done about the divisiveness it engenders.

The removal and relocation of the flag requires the approval of the legislature, which Beasley has been quietly working toward for several weeks.

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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