Yesterday, September 2, 2016, was a hot, oppressively humid day in Charleston, SC. My friend, Robert, was visiting from Ohio. I’d driven down to Charleston to show him the city. When we arrived, we started by looking out over the bay, the USS Yorktown, slightly to the left, in the distance. Off to our right, Fort Sumter, whose flags can usually be seen proudly flapping in the breeze, sat limply, listlessly in the nearly breezeless afternoon . Fort Sumter is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. I noticed, and mentioned to Robert that, even though Charleston is normally hot and humid in the summer, today seemed a little hotter and more humid because of the lack of a breeze. He agreed that it was a bit toasty.
As we continued our walk, directly in front, and slightly to our right, I noticed a collection of flags being held by a variety of people: A U.S. flag, Confederate flag, Black Lives Matter, and Love Trumps Hate, most notably. I told Robert: Man! I’ve got to get a picture of this. This is where it all started, the confederacy, and, in wake of what happened in Charlottesville, well, I have to take it! He was a little skeptical, a little uncomfortable. I said: Look! This is fantastic, to me! These people are out here doing something that seems to be eroding, exercising their First Amendment rights! I applaud and support this! Certainly, I don’t agree with some of their sentiments, but I certainly applaud their right to express their opinions peacefully! He agreed, took his lens cap off, and began to take photos as well.
After taking our photos, we continued the discussion. A bit farther along, I talked about symbols: Prominently displayed on a truck was a large Stars & Bars (Confederate) flag and proudly emblazoned on the front license plate, the name of Robert E. Lee, famous southern general. On a personal level, I had no issue with this. Sure, humans are very much attuned to and triggered by symbols; This is a great survival mechanism. It clues us into which spider, snakes, and plants may be poisonous or dangerous. That said, inanimate symbols have only the power that you give them, nothing more. That flag, to me, is but a red piece of cloth, a blue X, and 13 stars that represented a particular time in our country when different ideals prevailed, a failed experiment. Thankfully, that time (of government supported) has passed. It has no power to cause anger to be triggered in me.
I didn’t stop to talk to these people, get their stories, or see why they believed what they believed; I just stood for a little while, sweating, hoping for a slight breeze or two to unfurl the flags, remembering what Peter Turnley said about getting things in the frame, working the shot, getting the story, and being happy that they could express their views without incident. Also, for myself, I was thankful that I was free to walk the streets as a black man, with a white friend, in a former slave state. In fact, we were walking in a state that was the first to secede from the Union, the birthplace of the Confederate States. Personally, I’m happy that their efforts to continue their way of life failed and that The Union won.
Symbols or no, I know that there are still white supremacists and a variety of hate groups out there. I believe in peaceful protest and that neither side should seek to silence the other side because they don’t like what they hear, whether it be a message of togetherness, or of separation. We’ve all been given the right to say our piece, and, to realize that not everyone will like what we have to say. I’ve seen t-shirts that say: The South will rise again. Well, from my point of view, I certainly hope not!
It was a great day out and I was glad to be able to see this peaceful display of First Amendment rights.