Originally created 02/19/01

Film chronicles flag battle



AIKEN - South Carolina and its people, black and white, are prominently featured in a History Channel documentary, The Unfinished Civil War, airing at 9 tonight.

Most of the filming took place last year while the Palmetto State struggled under the critical eyes of a watching world to come to terms with the Confederate flag then flying on its Statehouse dome and with the conflicting emotions it evoked.

The unfolding events in that turbulent year brought a film crew several times to South Carolina, the last state of the old Confederacy to fly an authentic emblem of that time on its modern-day Capitol.

The events, filmed as they happened, changed the focus of what had started as a look at Civil War re-enactors.

"The History Channel set out to make a film about these weekend warriors," said Glenn Kirschbaum, producer and writer of the two-hour program. "What we found was something completely unexpected. We discovered an unfinished Civil War, a war that lives on in the hearts and minds of those whose ancestors fought - or were enslaved - during the darkest chapter in American history.

"From Maryland to Mississippi and into the Carolinas, people are marching into battle, not across open fields but through the streets of their cities. Instead of carrying muskets and sabers, they are raising banners, flags and voices of defiance - 135 years have passed since the end of the Civil War, but for many the war still rages on."

The documentary became a story of two re-enactors: a white man, John Krause, from Maryland who never portrays a Yankee; and a black South Carolinian, Joe McGill, who now lives in Indiana and who founded a group that re-enacts the black 54th Massachusetts regiment featured in the movie Glory.

The men were filmed separately on visits to South Carolina, Mr. Krause at pro-flag rallies, and Mr. McGill sleeping in a slave cabin at Boone Hall Plantation and marching silently with hundreds of others to protest a compromise. The agreement took one Confederate flag off the Statehouse dome and put another on the Capitol grounds at a monument to Southern soldiers.

The men's different perspectives of the day the compromise was signed, July 1, 2000, are used in the documentary to explain opposing views and how people who hold them can still respect each other.

One rare piece of footage was shot inside the Statehouse dome the moment two Citadel cadets, one black and one white, lowered the Confederate flag and removed it from the lanyard, leaving only the flags of the state and nation over the Capitol.

Other South Carolina scenes include emotional rallies for and against the flag, including footage of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley's anti-flag march that ended at the Capitol last spring. Scenes from that event on the south side of the Statehouse are included with no mention that a competing pro-flag rally was underway at the same time on the north side of the Capitol.

James Gallman of Aiken, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in South Carolina, is heard explaining the silent march. Frances Bell of Windsor, the state president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, is shown speaking at one of the early flag rallies in the long controversy, and that scene reflects another omission.

Earlier in the film, former Louisiana Klan leader David Duke is shown speaking in Richmond, Va., during a dispute over whether Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee should be depicted in a public mural. Mrs. Bell cut her group's rally short that day because Mr. Duke was there. Some members wanted him to speak, and she said she feared that would imply the CCC was connected with the Ku Klux Klan.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.