The news of the past week has run the gamut from deep despair to joyous celebration, as millions of Americans grappled with the murder of black parishioners at Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina, while millions of others celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision upholding marriage equality.
Throughout this news cycle there has been an explosive debate over the Confederate flag and the need to take it down from government-sanctioned spaces, while, simultaneously, LGBT citizens and their allies have raised the flag of pride to commemorate a Supreme Court victory that makes this year’s pride season even more special.
This past week, there have been some amazing images of both flags, together and separately, that remind us that symbols do matter in issues of civil rights. Below are some of the photos and cartoons that have made the rounds that speak volumes about flags and people’s passion for causes.
It was a politically savvy speech, in which she maintained her conservative creds by acknowledging those she knew wanted the flag to remain without being (completely) insensitive those who wanted it gone.
She spoke about “moving forward” and acknowledged that “on matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history.” [That’s an understatement.] She also sought to distinguish between South Carolinians who revered the flag’s heritage from the likes of Dylann Roof, whose use of the flag was “sick and twisted.” [Translation: There are good and bad flaggers.] And, while she supported the private display of the Confederate flag, she noted that “The State House is different.” Yes, it is.
Then she got to the business at hand. “With no ill will,” she said, “it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” The room erupted with applause. She went further and declared that she will use her authority as governor to return the South Carolina state legislature to session to take action to remove the flag if it has not done so by the close of the legislative session that ends this week. While she offered her respect to those who still revered the flag, she was quick to return the focus to those who lost their lives in Charleston on June 17, 2015. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” and acknowledged that the fact that the flag “causes so much pain” was reason enough to take it down.
This is a swift turnaround from just a few days before. Then, Haley expressed no interest in “policy discussions,” saying instead that her job was “to heal the people of this state.” She also maintained that the flag, an emblem of white supremacy and violence, posed no problems or even discussions with CEOs planning to set up shop in South Carolina.
But she could not ignore the flag’s association with this latest act of racial violence, especially as images of 21 year-old Dylann Roof, who perpetrated this crime of terror and violence, circulated. Neither could she refute the recent protest on Capitol grounds, the #TakeItDown movement, and the moveon.org petition, which gathered more than a half million signatures calling for the flag’s removal. Even her fellow Republican Mitt Romney tweeted to take it down. [Note: If Haley wants to remain in contention as a Republican running mate in 2016, she needed to do this.]
One hopes, however, that the Governor finally realized that to truly heal the people of South Carolina, she had to consider ALL of the people–and not just those who still cling to a relic of the past that should have long ago been relegated to a museum.
The terror and murder of innocents in Charleston’s Emanuel AME church a few days ago has rightfully sparked a discussion of our country’s problem with race–especially the fact that on a daily basis, black people are targets of white hatred. And, in the case of 21 year-old Dylann Roof, a white racist from Eastover, South Carolina, his hatred led him to plot and murder nine individuals gathered for prayer in their own church. They were:
Say their names. This is a constant refrain, because this story isn’t just about the murderer, it’s as much about those who were killed and the devastation that their families and community are left to deal with.
It is also time that South Carolina, in particular, remove one of the most divisive symbols on its Capitol grounds–the Confederate battle flag. It’s the same flag that Dylann Roof sported on the front plate of his car and one, among other white supremacist flags, that he swore allegiance to.
Governor Nikki Haley feigns surprise at how someone could enter a place of worship to kill people, while also suggesting that this flag is a-okay with business CEOs.
First, Gov. Haley needs to get her head out of the sand. This wasn’t simply an attack on people of faith. It was an act of racial terror on a specific church. Anyone with a bare bones understanding of the state’s history, which should include Haley, knows exactly why Roof targeted Emanuel AME.
Second, whether or not CEOs have a problem with the Confederate battle flag on capitol grounds is beside the point. The South Carolina State House is the people’s house. It doesn’t belong to the CEO of Volvo or any other business considering locating a factory in South Carolina. It belongs to all of South Carolina’s citizens, not just the ones who are clinging to a relic of white supremacy.
So that flag, the one that inspires racial hatred and murder and hopes of a race war, has no place on the grounds of state government. Shamefully, it flew even as The Honorable Senator Clementa Pinckney, murdered in the church he pastored, was being eulogized inside the senate chamber where he once served.
It insults his service to South Carolina. It insults all those who were murdered as they worshipped. It insults black and white citizens of the state alike, and it must come down.
It’s a small gesture and not a salve for all that is wrong, but it might begin a process of racial healing that is much needed right now.
Since 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act was passed, the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in Richmond, Virginia, has hosted an annual ceremony known as the “Massing of the Flags.” The event, held each June, commemorates the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It is the one time each year that the UDC opens its doors to the public, and in my many research trips to the city, I was told that it would be interesting for me to attend this event.
In 2000, my curiosity led me to Richmond to find out what massing of the flags–Confederate style–meant. As I approached the headquarters I saw men in reproduction Confederate uniforms and women in dresses that cascaded over hoop skirts. It was a sign of things to come.
Entering the building, one walks into the large central room where the ceremony is held. Stretching along the wall directly opposite the entrance is a row of chairs, reminiscent of Masonic chairs, which at one time likely hosted the officers of the Daughters’ general organization. Above the chairs on the wall is the UDC motto “Think, Love, Pray, Dare, Live” represented on a five-pointed star with a cotton boll at the center.
I took a seat on the right side of the aisle and waited for the day’s activities to begin. Leading the audience in prayer, the minister did what Lost Cause devotees of a century earlier had done—paid homage to Jefferson Davis by likening his sacrifices for the South to those of Christ for humanity. Another speaker led the crowd in a rousing rebel yell, followed by the singing of “Dixie.” The day’s speech, like every year’s ceremony, focused on some aspect of Davis’s life and career. Then, I learned about massing flags.
State by state (not all of which we know to be Confederate, like California) was represented by a man and woman dressed in period attire. The man carried the state’s flag, as commentary about the state’s sacrifices, commitment to, or sympathy with the Confederate cause was read aloud.
Chests swelled with pride and the ceremony was observed by many others dressed in period attire, dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs as the parade of flags passed by. Lest you think this was a ceremony of the aged, the Children of the Confederacy (the UDC’s official youth auxiliary) was also represented, just as in commemorations past.
This particular commemoration was marked with a speech by June Murray Wells, then president-general of the entire UDC organization. A resident of Charleston, South Carolina, Wells’ presence at that year’s massing came on the heels of the fight over the Confederate battle flag that flew atop the South Carolina State House in Columbia, which was subsequently removed.
In her speech recounting the year’s battles, however, Murray stayed true to Lost Cause form and painted the eventual outcome as a moral victory for Confederate organizations. She noted with pride that the flag, no longer flying out of view on top of the capitol, now appeared more visible to the state’s citizens, as it waved from a thirty-foot flagpole that stood directly in front of the building. “The pole is lit at night,” she told the enthusiastic crowd, and, she chuckled “should anyone try to remove the flag, it has an electric charge.”
That day Jefferson Davis’s birthday was marked in true Lost Cause fashion. A man who was a white supremacist was honored through modern day racist rhetoric. The NAACP, whose members Wells referred to as “that crowd,” and its boycott of South Carolina was, for those gathered to honor Davis, about “us” versus “them,” of white versus black.
And in their minds, the Confederate forces had won.
In Part VI of Me and Jeff Davis, I’ll talk about living on Jefferson Davis Highway.
PS: Your book Sombreros and Motorcycles in a Newer South you investigate the cultural meanings embedded in two very different tourist attractions, both of which are located in South Carolina—South of the Border and Atlantic Beach’s Bikefest. What drew you to study these two places?
I am drawn to overlooked places that have escaped scholarly attention. Both South of the Border —a Jewish-owned roadside attraction—and Atlantic Beach—a historically black seaside resort—were independently owned tourist sites that developed during the post-World War II rise of consumer culture and have managed to sustain their businesses and built environments outside of the corporate model of tourism. They both possess a distinct retro and individual aesthetic because of their independent histories during the rise of mass-produced consumer culture. Both places experienced their heydays during the period of segregated leisure culture in the South and dealt with desegregation and shifts in southern politics in interesting ways that speak to the importance of leisure culture as a defining aspect of southern culture and identity.
Also, I grew up in Conway, South Carolina, which is within an hour of both South of the Border and Atlantic Beach. I worked in the tourism industry throughout high school. Both places drew me in with a fascinating built environment that was distinct from the mass-produced tourist destinations in Myrtle Beach. Essentially, I became obsessed with the question: Why do these places look the way they do? What are their stories?
PS: You see these two tourist sites as representative of what you call a “Newer South.” Explain what that term means to you.
The Newer South entails the refashioning of older regional constructions as they move into the twenty-first century. Like the songs by the Drive-by Truckers or, the independent films of Ray McKinnon, or the recreation of the Confederate flag in the colors of African liberation by young fashion entrepreneurs in Charleston, SC, the “Newer South” explores the “duality of the southern thing.” To me this duality includes a new generation of southerners coming to terms with the past horrors of the region’s past (slavery and Jim Crow) while also moving forward with a more diverse and progressive view on the region’s more postmodern identity—meaning that identity is constantly being refashioned in more hybrid and performative ways. In a historical sense, the Newer South also encompasses a shift in economics from the New South of manufacturing towards the current dominance of the service industries in the region.
PS: What does South of the Border tell us about southern history and culture?
South of Border represents the constantly changing aspect of southern history and culture on the physical and metaphorical “borderlines.” Alan Schafer, who created and ran the roadside attraction until his death in 2001, used his hybrid Jewish-southern identity to build a diverse base for his business and push social and political boundaries. Schafer was constantly changing and expanding his roadside attraction located just south of the North-Carolina/South Carolina border and working with recently enfranchised African Americans. On the other hand, South of the Border presents the refashioned racism of the Newer South with the mascot of Pedro, a problematic cartoon-like stereotype that essentializes the complexity of Latinos into a singular “lazy Mexican” stereotype. The South of the Border roadside attraction tells us about the good and bad of southern history and culture as it moves into the twenty-first century (still owned and operated by the Schafer family).
PS: How about Atlantic Beach’s Bikefest?
The Atlantic Beach Bikesfest, which began in 1980 as a motorcycle festival for African Americans during Memorial Day weekend in the Grand Strand mecca of coastal tourism in South Carolina, also represents the refashioned racism of southern culture. Following the South’s more blatant racism, which the Civil Right Movement fought against, the more subtle prejudices of the late-twentieth century see the rise of a supposedly post-racial “family values” that is still uses to oppress minorities. The regulation of the freedom of African Americans is apparent in how the City of Myrtle Beach and some local businesses attempted to limit and even bar black bodies from public streets and accommodations during the Bikefest. Because the city treated the black motorcyclists at Atlantic Beach Bikefest differently than they did the white bikers there a week earlier for a Harley Davidson festival—the black bikers had limited access to roads and hotels—the NAACP was able to file a successful discrimination lawsuits against businesses that treated blacks differently. The controversy surrounding this new form of racism played out within the realm of tourism—the new number one industry in South Carolina—and speaks to the importance of personal expression and freedom in leisure and popular culture as well. The young black motorcycle enthusiasts at Bikefest represent a subculture with its own distinct aesthetic—fast neon speedbikes—that is distinct from the history of white motorcycle subcultures.
PS: This blog examines the South in popular culture. Where do you think your book intersects with popular culture and ideas of the region?
The book speaks to the important social and political aspects of tourism as one form of popular culture. However, the overarching power dynamics of popular culture are also complex. There is not a top down model where producers simply control and manipulate consumers. The lines between producers and consumers of popular culture are blurring in the twenty-first century. We need to explore the intertwined mechanisms of control and resistance found in popular culture.
Furthermore, recreation and entertainment are now big business in the South and must be considered an important aspect of southern culture. We overlook the messages and collective meanings of popular culture at our peril. The images and experiences we produce/consume, even while on vacation, matter.
When I first wrote about the South in reality television a few years ago, it seemed like a disturbing trend that would hopefully die a quick death. But no. Today, the reality shows that exploit the region have expanded from a trickle to a flood. And even within this genre of programming there are state “franchises,” so to speak, with Louisiana being the best example. Nearly every state in the region has served as a backdrop for a reality-based show, but not all. South Carolina? It’s your turn.
The state usually takes it on the chin for its conservative politics, or more pointedly, conservative politicians who draw the wrong kind of media attention. Think of former governor Mark Sanford’s tearful display of love for his mistress after he went “hiking on the Appalachian Trail.” Or of Joe “You Lie!” Wilson. Even the Democratic Party was put to shame when Alvin Green–an unemployed veteran indicted for showing pornographic pictures to a female student at USC–became the party’s candidate for Senate. And on it goes.
This spring, however, South Carolina is being showcased in two new reality shows, making this a total of three for the Palmetto State. It is already the site of TLC’s Myrtle Manor, a show that covers the hijinks of people who live in a trailer park in Myrtle Beach. But, I digress. The new shows include CMT’s “Party Down South,” filmed in Murrells Inlet (near Myrtle Beach), and Bravo’s “Southern Charm,” featuring a group of poorly-behaved Charleston socialites, a show locals have condemned to no avail. Hint: there’s nothing charming about this bunch.
“Southern Charm” will be out in a couple of months, but “Party Down South” (PDS) has already cranked up. The show is produced by SallyAnn Salsano, who is the “mastermind” behind MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” and it does what MTV’s “Buckwild” couldn’t manage to do, which was to create a southern equivalent with characters like Snooki and the Situation.
The gist of the show is that the cast (most of whom hail from Deep South states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama) is staying at a rented house near the beach, where they share bedrooms, go to bars nearly every night, get drunk (a lot), fight (this goes with drinking), have sex, eat meals together “like a family,” have a “job” by the marina, and show their collective asses. Sound familiar?
So what is southern about the show? Essentially, the setting, the accents, colloquialisms (“pop a squat,” “cooter,” and “coon ass”) and some good ol’ redneck fun, which usually involves trucks and mud.
CMT has become the primary network for redneck television and “Party Down South” is one in a long line of shows that hit the same tired notes of southern-based reality television. The formula involves working-class southerners, in this case young ones, as imbeciles willing to do anything for a little cash and attention. Being on the show is likely going to be the biggest thing to ever happen to them, and producers know it. No doubt there were several hundred “hopefuls” who wanted to be on the show.
The thing is, I knew people like this in high school. Girls that drank too much and got into fights. Guys that would do anything for a laugh. Many of my classmates may have found them amusing in the moment, but they also felt embarrassed for them. The difference today is that the cast of PDS may never be able to escape their immature past, because it is forever preserved on film and has been shared with millions.
CMT and SallyAnn Salsano are the real winners here, as the network may boost its youth demographic and Salsano her financial portfolio. The losers, of course, are South Carolina and this cast.
Bravo promises a different group of southerners in its series “Southern Charm,” but don’t expect much different from what’s on over at CMT.
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
If you’re breathing, there’s a good chance you know that Charlotte, North Carolina, is hosting the Democratic National Convention (DNC). This is an exciting time for the Queen City as we play host to conventioneers, politicians, and journalists. There will also be a lot of kvetching over traffic and street closures, but I for one am very thrilled to see that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will be setting up shop at Imaginon, home to the city’s Children’s Theatre and Library.
In fact, I’d really like to be on the show to discuss the media and its southern stereotypes. I’ve written about it before here on Pop South (See posts on DNC Announcement and the one on Martin Bashir over at MSNBC), and I’m certainly scouting out other journalistic blunders on this score, but right now I am waging a campaign to be a guest on the Daily Show to talk about the subject. And why not? The Daily Show has numerous reports that have been tagged “the South.” The earliest one, on Strom Thurmond, dates to 1999. And the most recent? On Chick fil A, of course. I suppose the region is a gift that keeps on giving, as seen in the report on “Tarred Heels” (below), which led Jon Stewart to conclude that North Carolina is the Democrat’s “South Carolina.” Ouch!
So, Jon, if you’re listening, I’ve got a book on the topic of the South in popular culture, this here blog, and hell, I’ve even written an op-ed for the New York Times. I’m also a fan of the show, if that helps. And, I’d love to talk “the South” with you while you’re in Charlotte.
Pop South readers: Join me in my campaign and tweet to get @Sassyprof on the air. Tweet this message: Give @Sassyprof a guest slot to discuss the South and the media @TheDailyShow #CharlotteDNC