Look Away, Dixie – No, Really, Look Away

In 2011, the United States entered into a sesquicentennial period. That long word represents a long time by a young country’s standards: 150 years. 2011 marked 150 years since the United States of America was sliced in two by the secession of the southern states, who thought it would be better to start their own country where slavery would be allowed. Yet in some patches of the now reattached American South there are still folks hanging on for dear life, all these years later, to that tattered Confederate flag.

Case in point: Students at the College of Charleston (South Carolina) are protesting the hiring of a new president at their school. The new president is the Lieutenant Governor of the Palmetto State Glenn McConnell.

If McConnell signs on the dotted line of his new employment contract , he will become president of a college whose minority enrollment–black students in particular–is lower than that of any other South Carolina higher education institution.

Dixie for Sale

What makes this especially tricky and possibly bad for the school’s diversity are the following factoids about McConnell. Quoting here from an article posted on Inside Higher Ed by reporter Ry Rivard, McConnell

So Carolina Lt Gov Glenn McConnell Confederate gift shop

“…used to own a shop that sold memorabilia of the South’s rebellion; he appears in a widely circulated picture dressed as a Confederate general; and he is a longtime supporter of flying the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds.”

Um, okay, well then… Anyone see a conflict there?

I understand that there are people interested in Civil War history. I am, too. In fact, a major part of my book Panther Mountain: Caroline’s Story involves early Civil War battles in Virginia. [Full disclosure here: my ancestors in antebellum and Civil War Virginia were pro-Union. They were opposed to slavery on religious grounds].

So history buffs buying gifts at McConnell’s Confederate-themed shop might simply have been trying to learn more about the South’s rebellion. Nothing illegal or immoral about that. But let’s get to the flag flying part. It’s well-documented that displaying the flag of the failed fugitive Southern republic (which in the end flew the white flag of surrender) is offensive to many people. It reminds us of a time when human beings were unjustly treated and mistreated as property.

Ironically, private individuals have a constitutional right to fly that flag if they so choose, thanks to the constitution of the United States which many a Southern soldier shed blood to get away from. But a state-sponsored display of that flag is a different matter. Government buildings that operate sporting a symbol of a pro-slavery government can hardly be taken seriously as a government for all people.

McConnell Confederate general“McConnell has been unapologetic in his support of the flag. He argued in the late 1990s that eradicating symbols of the Old South could lead to ‘cultural genocide.’ (Post and Courier, 12.22.13)

Hm, like the cultural genocide that slave owners carried out on generations of Africans? I see….

So what’s to stop McConnell from dressing in Johnny Reb gray at his inauguration?

A Reminder of Gray Days

Might the new college president make prospective students of color unlikely to choose his school for their education, seeing as how he openly participates in Civil War battle re-enactments as a Confederate soldier?  That’s what many students and faculty are concerned about. They are also none too happy that the school’s board of trustees has, in their opinion. fast-tracked McConnell as their choice over other, more academically qualified candidates.

Clearly there are many who support McConnell. Otherwise he would not have been voted into office in the state of South Carolina. And the college’s board of trustees certainly has his back. Nine of those trustees are up for re-election by the South Carolina State Assembly this week. All are running unopposed.

McConnell ally and former state Senator Robert Ford spoke with a reporter from Charleston’s Post and Courier and said that in a recent meeting he attended, students said they have no confidence in the process by which McConnell was hired.  Ford said. “I can live with that.”

Look away, look away, look away, Dixieland…

Update, 6.22.2015: Glenn McConnell is indeed the president of the College of Charleston and the Confederate flag, a symbol of slavery and white supremacy, still flies at full mast over the State Capitol in Columbia, even after the tragic slaughter of nine Charleston church members at the hands of a racist white terrorist. #TakeDownTheFlag