Current Controversies

The Confederate flag still flies high above the South Carolina Statehouse, and it has sparked an enormous amount of debate. The flag was placed above the State House in 1962 as a response to the Civil Rights movement. Blacks in South Carolina see the flag as a symbol of racism and slavery. Many Southern whites see the flag as a symbol of their proud, distinctive heritage and the gentility of the Old South. In November of 1996, Governor David Beasley delivered a televised speech to the state saying he thought the flag should be taken down. Beasley had been elected as a pro-Confederate flag candidate and strong ally of the Christian coalition. Beasley claimed that he had had a religious experience in which he concluded that the symbol had come to be the cause of too much strife, saying that the, "plowshare has been turned into a sword." Beasley's argument was not that the flag was hurting business (although that could be somewhere behind his argument), but one of Semiotics.

Beasley: The Confederate flag flying above the Statehouse flies in a vacuum. Its meaning and purpose are not defined by law. Because of this, any group can give the flag any meaning it chooses. The Klan can misuse it as a racist tool, as it has, and others can misuse it solely as a symbol for racism, as they have.

Beasley asserted the basic premise of Semiotics that signs and symbols have no intrinsic value but only carry that value which is assigned to them by people. Many of Beasley's fellow Republican party members like State Attorney General Charles Condon are opposed taking the flag down. Condon and other flag supporters like State Senator Glenn McConnell point to a monument on the Statehouse grounds for a definition of the flag. In the words of McConnell, the monument reads: "in the hopelessness of the hospitals, the despair of defeat, and the short sharp agony of struggle, the South Carolinians who answered the call of their state did so in the consolation of the belief that here at home, they would not be forgotten." Charles Condon says that he and the Governor both the believe the flag is a symbol of honor and does not understand the Governor's initiative to take the flag down. Religious groups have gotten involved as well, wrestling with the question of which side of the issue is morally right. Public opinion in South Carolina seems to be with keeping the flag right where it is. Many political experts in South Carolina and even those who know very little about politics expect the flag issue to hurt Beasley in his reelection campaign in 1998. Since the Democratic party wields very little political clout right now in South Carolina, Beasley's only real competition will come from his own party. Thus, the Confederate flag is fast becoming the most important issue in the race for Governor.

Controversies of the sort, though perhaps not of this scale, are visible all over the South. University of Mississippi football games have become a hotspot for turmoil. Ole Miss, a name with slave connotations in and of itself, is a school rich in Old South tradition. Students traditionally wave Rebel flags at home football games, but recently, some University officials have spoken out against it. The football coach believes that a stadium full of Confederate flags makes it difficult for the University to recruit minority athletes. Professor of civil rights law Barbara Phillip Sullivan feels the flag is a symbol of, "hate speech because its use in the South was a use intended to convey the ideology of white supremacy and the inhumanity and subordination of African-Americans." She believes the flag makes African-Americans feel uwelcome at Ole Miss. The Administration of the University has asked fans not to bring their flags to the games, believing that it castes an unfavorable image on the school. Of course, there are the die hard Ole Miss traditionalists who think it almost a sacrilege to have an Ole Miss football game in Oxford without the Confederate flags waving. History professor David Sansing sums up the situation: "There are at least five or six different groups to whom the flag is very important, but for very, very different reasons. It's one of the most powerful images certainly in American history." Once again, the heart of the argument lies in Semiotics. Controversies have also arisen in Maryland and North Carolina over images of the flag on special liscence plates, and in Georgia and Mississippi over the image of the battle flag within the state flag. Countless other individual skirmishes abound across the South.