It won’t stop racists from hating. I am sure we all can agree the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol in South Carolina will not, as Nikki Giovanni rapped in the 1960s, “stop chickens from laying eggs or Crackers from hating.”
However, it will usher in a new day in 20 years, when babies born today, will have reached adulthood, without a daily reminder of a painful period in southern history.
Today’s news out of South Carolina causes me to reflect upon two events in my life.
First, the day in 1971 when I drove down to Ozark, Alabama with two of my classmates at Tuskegee Institute for the kick-off rally of George Wallace’s second run for President.
We were the only black people at this campaign rally, except the black Secret Service agent who appeared out of thin air, just in time to protect us from mob violence at the hands of Wallace’s male supporters.
What I remember most about that night was the large number of newborn babies wrapped in Wallace bumper stickers which read, “WALLACE! SEGREGATION FOREVER!” It was a very frightening experience. We were fortunate to get out of town with our lives.
What disheartened me the most was the fact that white people in attendance at this rally seemed to be breeding hatred from the cradle. I wrote about this night in my new book Justice in the Round.
A few weeks ago, when the white supremacist Dylann Roof, massacred nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, it caused me to realize my fears that night had come true: In 20 years, South Carolina white supremacists had successfully raised a progeny from the cradle into young adulthood who hated black people so much, that after getting to know their humanity for an hour, he resorted to the racist propaganda taught through his heritage about black people, then pulled out his gun and opened fire on people far superior than himself.
The second event that the flag removal brings to the forefront of my mind is my active participation in 1994-95 as one of the counsels of record in Coleman v. Miller, 885 F. Supp. 1561. In this case James Andrews Coleman brought suit against Georgia Governor Zell Miller “seeking the removal of the Georgia flag from all state office buildings.”
Coleman grew up in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When he moved to Georgia and encountered the “Stars and Bars,” in the Georgia flag, he felt that the state of Georgia was requiring him to advance a political philosophy he found repugnant.
His suit advanced the argument that “the [Georgia] legislation establishing the flag and the flag’s design are discriminatory and racist in nature.”
Coleman filed the suit pro se. The case was assigned to District Judge Orinda D. Evans. She believed that this case was too important to get bounced out of court because the plaintiff was a non lawyer and not familiar with the federal rules of procedure, so she appointed Bruce Harvey, no relation, and myself to assist Coleman in the prosecution of his claim for removal of the Confederate battle flag in Georgia.
What stands out in my mind about this legal challenge to the Confederate flag in Georgia is that shortly after receiving my appointment, I ran into Congressman John Lewis at a Neighborhood Planning Unit meeting. After Lewis addressed the gathering, I stood up and asked him if he would support the lawsuit to remove this flag in Georgia. I was stunned by Lewis’ reply: “No, I certainly will not.”
I sat down.
After the meeting, I drove back to my office in downtown Atlanta, where I received a late night telephone call from a racist who threatened to string me up by Bruce Harvey’s ponytail if I did not get off that case. I was as fearless in ’95 as Lewis had been in ’65. I pressed on.
Coleman’s suit failed on several technical grounds, but I can not help but think that if members of Atlanta’s civil rights community had been courageous enough to support the suit, Bruce Harvey and I would have brought that flag down five years before Governor Roy Barnes pushed through legislation that caused it to be replaced.
No, bringing that flag down will not stop “chickens from laying eggs,” or the Klan from recruiting other white domestic terrorists, but it will severely limit the genetic pool of race haters in years to come.
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org