This week, The New York Times reported that the procedural elements within South Carolina’s general assembly to introduce legislation that will officially remove the Confederate Flag from the State Capitol grounds are well underway and its prospects for passage appear to be good.
Let’s look back, on June 17th, 2015 was the day that a sick young man by the name of Dylann Roof premeditatedly murdered nine members of the A.M.E church in South Carolina during worship. Some of the reasons why this tragedy was so sad, horrific and compelling was the place where the massacre occurred, the racialized poison in Roof’s soul, the calmness in the execution, all in the name of white supremacy and fears of a black planet.
I’ve read mountains of commentary, news coverage and watched the Etch-a-Sketch changing of positions of South Carolina’s governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC). After a week’s worth of reflection, my anger remains intact because the gift of life was ruthlessly and arbitrarily taken away by the worst of sins. However, my anger has been reoriented with a healing gene due to the strengths of the family members of loved ones lost. I watched and listened to the testimonials as family members spoke to Dylann Roof through a glass window. While each statement moved me and had me close to tears, the one statement that put it all in perspective for me, came from Alana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons when she said, “Hate won’t win, my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies live in love.”
What I believe Ms. Simmons was talking about was not only a reference to the day to day imperfections of man and woman, but a context to what Christ meant to those victims and that her words of resilience will forever be associated with this ugly chapter of South Carolina history.
The massacre committed by Dylann Roof rattled a nation and awakened a state in ways that Dylann’s hatred never intended. We’ve seen thousands of citizens of all races march in peace and protest over South Carolina’s Ravenal bridge. We’ve seen Republican and Democratic leaders call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol, corporate titans such as Amazon, Ebay and Walmart discontinuing the sale of confederate merchandise and debate surfacing among other states that have flags of hateful leanings and history.
Now the cynic in me could ask, where did this uprising of motivation for flag removal come from? And if I stayed in that place of cynicism, one would be legitimately disgusted by the presence of Republican chaiman Reince Preibus on that stage with those black democratic leaders of South Carolina as governor Nikki Haley announced her desire for the confederate flag to be removed. But that is the trap. The well documented crassness and insincerity of Preibus on racial progress and inclusion is not the story. Whether you believe that Haley and Graham’s change of heart is attributed to the participation in a bible study group is not the story. The reported shared agony of fellow politicians of both Republican and Democratic leaders of losing a well liked comrade in Clementa Pinckney is not the story. The story is this, history has rarely demonstrated real change conveniently matched with the purity of motivations. Wars, civil rights, and amendments to the constitution came with bloodshed, death, hatred, hypocrisy, and unchanged hearts and minds for many. But change still came.
In South Carolina, the tragedy has brought a state on the cusp of small, but real change, symbolic change, a victory for love and new possibilities for other forms of reconciliation. As the battle for a better nation continues, those nine deaths were not in vain. It changed history. Hopefully, it will change Dylann Roof too.
Writer, trained Social Worker and Mental Health Therapist. Husband, father and anti-racist at my core.