COLUMBIA - While people took their last photographs of a Confederate flag on South Carolina's Statehouse dome Friday, Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges said all he means to say about today's ceremony taking it down.
"There have been enough speeches," he said, using his words to predict that the NAACP boycott that forced state lawmakers to look to the Capitol dome will fizzle now. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is not happy with the flag's removal because state lawmakers decided to put up another one - an authentic battle flag like the one South Carolina troops fought under in the Civil War - in a more visible place. The new banner, a white-edged version of the familiar battle flag, will fly on a bronze pole beside a monument to Southern soldiers.
The NAACP's economic boycott will continue after today's historic ceremonies. In a few minutes, in a colorful drama without words, South Carolina will become the last of the former Confederate states to take a flag from that era off its seat of government. The ceremonies end a public debate that may never be settled in people's minds - whether the flag stands for slavery and oppression or freedom and defiance of tyranny.
But Mr. Hodges, freshly back from a trade mission that brought $600 million in new investment to the state, said South Carolina's economic health is good and getting better despite the economic pressures brought to force down the Confederate flag. Tourism dollars are not down, either.
The governor said those are signs that the world recognizes South Carolina is trying to do the right thing. The flag compromise pleased hardly anyone, he said. It pained pro-flag people, who wanted to keep a Confederate banner on the dome, and angered anti-flag people who wanted it retired from the public grounds altogether. But the compromise is placing a Confederate emblem where it makes sense, Mr. Hodges said.
"We are moving the flag from a place of sovereignty to a monument for soldiers, and that speaks for itself. It will be moved, and it will be done in a respectful way for both sides." The NAACP's claim that black residents' sensibilities were disregarded is wrong, the governor said.
"I do care about their feelings just like I care about the feelings of people who felt passionately that the flag should never be removed from the dome," he said, citing a compromise that tried to recognize both sides of the emotional debate with dignity. "Sometimes you have to be prepared to meet the other side in the middle."
Today is significant and riddled with historical significance, the governor said. Although few other state officials plan to attend, Mr. Hodges said the state is determined to keep the events safe for the public - those simply there to see history in the making and those who want to express their discontent.
Security will be tight, and law enforcement will be heavy. Friends and foes of the flag are expected to be present in large numbers, although some groups said they would stay away in protest.
The world will be watching. On Friday, the Statehouse already was surrounded with national news media trucks and satellites. The governor's news conference was packed.
The Statehouse grounds milled with people, some there to take a last look at the Confederate flag on the dome and others to practice for the day ahead. Members of the Palmetto Battalion re-enactors' group, including some from Aiken and Edgefield, rehearsed for the raising of the new flag. Uniformed officers paced off areas they will use to keep order today. And a single protester circled the soldiers' monument with a battle flag, Nazi symbol and black doll hanged in effigy. State workers finished getting the outdoor site ready Friday as well. They finished raising a 400-pound bronze flagpole inside a new wrought-iron fence. Less visible are the other permanent changes to the grounds - surveillance cameras constantly trained on the bronze soldier and its pedestal - a reminder that the Confederate flag still is, and perhaps always will be, embattled.
Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.
The Confederate flag on the Statehouse dome will be lowered by two Citadel cadets at noon today, and Confederate flags will be removed from chambers of the House and Senate. All three will be displayed at the State Museum. This ceremony, inside the Capitol rotunda, will not be open to the public, but the lowering of the flag will be visible from the Statehouse grounds.
Immediately after the flags are removed, a color guard of Civil War re-enactors will raise an authentic Confederate battle flag at a monument to Southern soldiers on the Statehouse grounds. This ceremony will be open to the public.
Both ceremonies will be broadcast on South Carolina ETV channels.