Originally created 09/12/99

Salley man backs Confederate flag

SALLEY -- The strong, brown stems of a vine twining around the pole in his side yard tell a truth about Lourie A. Salley III.

He rarely lowers the two flags that help define his life in the 1890 house where his grandfather and father, Lourie Salleys I and II, lived before him. He likes knowing that the third national flag of the Confederate States of America and the naval jack, emblem of the Rebel navy, are flying high.

They are near the side porch where he heard as a boy about Capt. Jefferson Salley, who marched off to war in 1861, participated in every major engagement against the Yankees, and refused to surrender until Gen. Robert E. Lee personally ordered him to.

At 44, Mr. Salley calls himself "a 19th century man trapped in the 20th century."

Soon to be trapped in the 21st, he clings to the same belief in limited government that his ancestors did. And he sees the Confederate flag not as a black-and-white issue but as one of Confederate gray that is relevant today.

"Government is like whiskey," Mr. Salley says. "A little bit is good for some people, but a lot of it will make them drunk and sometimes destroy their lives. ... This is not about just the South. It's about what faces our nation if we accept government that goes beyond the Constitution.

"The best government is always local government. That's why my ancestors wanted to secede from the Union. And

that's what Southerners, black and white, ought to be concerned about now."

So Confederate flags wave over his daily life. He lived up North once -- "three years in the People's Republic of Massachusetts" -- but didn't like it and came back home, where he parks his red convertible in a spot near the flagpole marked "Reserved for U.S. Marines." He glances up at the flags on his way to feed the horses he rides in re-enactments of cavalry battles in the War Between the States.

Mr. Salley spends some of his time with other Sons of Confederate Veterans who can trace their lineage to rebel ranks. He spends some with other members of the League of the South, who are actively planning another secession.

He devotes much of his law practice to the nonprofit Southern Legal Resource Center that he helped form in 1995 while defending a group of Blackville middle school pupils expelled for wearing Confederate emblems to school.

But he shies away from people and groups that harp on race or spout hate. They are, he says, "the lowest common denominator of Southerner," unable to appreciate that Southern culture is a unique blend of contributions from black and white ancestors.

FOR HIM, WHAT MOSTpeople call the Confederate flag, although it's one of several that flew over the Confederacy, stands for nothing like that.

For him, it represents a proud and feisty people willing to die for the Constitution, which they believed called for limited government.

His granddaddy, whose general store still stands near the Salley cotton gin, told a story about wild hogs in Deans Swamp nearby.

"One day a fellow from Orangeburg came up with a truckload of corn, inquiring about the hogs," Mr. Salley retells it. "He tossed some corn on the ground, and while they ate, he put up a string of fence. After four nights feeding corn to those hogs, he had four legs of fence and a gate. The next night he closed the gate, and those hogs that were free all their life were barbecue.

"That's the difference in how Yankees and Southerners look at government. One gives the corn. The other one understands that the gate is going to close sooner or later because any time people take something for nothing, whether it's a farm subsidy or Social Security or welfare, they lose a little of that proud and independent spirit. The real question is whether we want freedom or security."

That the Confederate flag suggests slavery instead of freedom to some people troubles Mr. Salley, whose life in the small town that bears his family's name has been interwoven with his black neighbors' lives.

There's no denying that South Carolina's declaration of secession, after outlining the constitutional arguments for it, dealt almost exclusively with the institution of slavery and the Southern states' right to preserve it.

Slavery was wrong, Mr. Salley says. It ended in the Confederate States of America more than 130 years ago, he says, yet remains in 16 countries throughout the world today, where the national flags do not seem to offend anybody.

That some people wrap their racial hatred in the Confederate flag troubles him even more.

"If we are ever to find true fellowship," he says, "we have to learn to respect each other's symbols without anger, hatred or bigotry. Black Southerners and white Southerners are a people. We have more in common with each other than any of us do with Yankees."

THE PREVALENT VIEWamong leaders of the NAACP, who have called for economic sanctions against South Carolina until the Confederate flag comes off its Capitol dome, is that heritage rhetoric tends to mask racist views.

But state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, who spent 27 years trying to take the flag down, including five separate bills in the Legislature, said people such as Mr. Salley, who love the Confederacy, are not necessarily bigots or racists.

"I have finally come to understand that no matter why we believe the Civil War was fought, or why we believe the flag was put on the Statehouse, we cannot demand respect for our views if we are unwilling to respect that 121,000 white men, 94 percent of whom did not own slaves, died in that war. Their great-great-grandchildren live in South Carolina today.

"We cannot continue to degrade them by calling the flag that honors their dead a `red rag' and shoving it in their faces. That is the most certain way I know of to keep the flag where it is. Black people and white people need to talk together more about their heritage and try to understand each other better.

"If Ambassador Andrew Young, a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King's, can bring the Jews and Arabs together with dialog, certainly we can accomplish the same as civilized people of the South."

Mr. Ford is promoting "New South politics," which he describes in terms remarkably like Mr. Salley's: "Our dream is that one day, white and black Southerners will learn to respect each other's heritage, culture, history and tradition."

UNDERSTANDING WHYpeople might want to secede is largely what got Mr. Salley inside the Freemen compound in Montana three years ago, helping to negotiate an end to their standoff with the FBI.

His sympathy with the besieged ranchers, who had created an armed township and declared independence from the United States, helped him talk to them. And the FBI liked his military and law-enforcement credentials. A lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, he was once Salley's police chief.

He walked in with "just one lawbook -- the Holy Bible" and started negotiations with prayer.

It was a tense time after a similar standoff with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, which ended in tragedy.

Watching the Montana drama on CNN in South Carolina, teen-ager Jared Salley knew his dad was all right when he saw a Confederate naval jack raised.

"Uh oh, we're in trouble now," he said. "Dad's joined 'em."

Mr. Salley says it was "just a Southern country lawyer's way of saying hello to folks back home."

"I just told them they were flying the wrong flag -- an American flag upside down. There was a Confederate flag hanging on the wall, and I said, `You need to run that one up. After all, my people wanted to secede too."'

Mr. Salley was one of three outside negotiators. The others were Kirk Lyons, the North Carolina lawyer who is chief trial lawyer and director of the Southern Legal Resource Center, for which Mr. Salley is executive director; and Mr. Lyons' colleague, Dave Hollaway.

Mr. Lyons was and is representing the Branch Davidians who survived Waco.

"Lourie was just perfect for that situation," Mr. Lyons said. "He downplays it, but the flag was a wonderful strategy. Lowering one and raising another kept the Freemen occupied with no time to change their minds about surrender. And it let them surrender with dignity. It eliminated being conquered and having the enemy loot their camp or capture their flag as a trophy."

An FBI agent from Louisiana later returned the Confederate flag to Mr. Salley.

"He said he couldn't stand for the Yankees to have it," Mr. Salley said with a grin.

MR. LYONS AND MR. Salley first met at a Confederate flag rally in Columbia.

They were drawn together by mutual love for the flag, their common profession and an interest in battle re-enactments, although each will say he doesn't fully agree with the other's racial views.

They met again when the Blackville school case arose and used legal fees from it to form the Southern Legal Resource Center. Its aim: to help other lawyers oppose "heritage violations" without starting from scratch.

The organization has attracted the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. -- which identifies hate groups throughout the nation -- because of Mr. Lyons' connection to it.

The SPLC had classified one of his earlier conservative legal organizations, the now defunct CAUSE Foundation, as a hate group and tagged Mr. Lyons as a white supremacist. He describes himself as a separatist instead, but "I think Lourie has a lot of courage to associate with me and risk getting branded himself."

The SPLC also wondered about the center's unabashed dedication to residents who are targeted for expressing pride in their Southern heritage. But the underlying theme of protecting constitutional freedoms has warded off a hate rating and led to an eclectic group of clients.

THEY INCLUDEa Greenville, S.C., teacher fired for refusing to remove a Confederate flag from his desk and for insisting on pledging allegiance to "one nation, divisible." Another is the last surviving Confederate widow, who objects to how she was portrayed in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Confederates in the Attic.

But they also include leaders of the NAACP in Asheville, N.C., who sought the center's help in protesting an affordable-housing study by the city. And they include black Branch Davidians in Waco.

The center's advice to people who want to display Confederate emblems to show their pride is to do it with taste and respect. That means no racial slurs or slogans and no gaudy displays.

If Mr. Salley is racist, his former commanding officer in the Marine Corps Reserve couldn't tell it.

"If he held any of those views, he couldn't possibly have come as far as he has in the Marines," said retired Col. Jack Zimmerman, an Austin, Texas, lawyer. He said Mr. Salley was assigned to inspection teams that included black and white officers; its job was to ensure units were ready to deploy if called to active duty.

What he did notice was that the Southern lawyer, whose legal hero is Cicero, the ancient Roman philosopher and orator, was unswervingly polite to everyone and attentive to what they had to say.

"I think if you scratch Lourie Salley, what you'd find is a man who deeply loves the Constitution," he said.

Mr. Salley says the Constitution is, next to the Bible, "the purest document known to man." He says the same belief defined the Confederacy.

That's why he wants one of its favored flags to remain on the Statehouse dome and says another place of honor is not an acceptable compromise.

"My greatest fear would be that taking it down to put somewhere else would be the first step to putting it away," he said. "And after a while, people would begin to forget the principles that are worth fighting for."


Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 orscbureau@augustachronicle.com.


Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved.    | Contact Us