Flag Controversy Puts S.C. Lawmakers At Odds With Many Constituents
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And let's turn now to South Carolina. Lawmakers there will soon be debating whether to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the Statehouse. Support for that idea appears to be growing since the murder of nine African-Americans in Charleston. But the push to take that flag down puts a number of representatives at odds with some of their constituents. And let's hear from one lawmaker's district. NPR's Joel Rose went to Landrum, S.C.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Landrum is a little town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the far northern end of the state. Restaurants and antique stores line the quaint two-story main street. It's the kind of place where you might leave your truck running while you duck into the store. At Landrum Hardware, owner Shawn Evans has a firm opinion when it comes to the Confederate battle flag flying at the Statehouse in Columbia about a hundred miles south of here.
SHAWN EVANS: Yeah, it should come down, absolutely. It's got too much impact on the economy of South Carolina at this point. It's past time for it to happen.
ROSE: Evans grew up in Michigan, and he thinks the flag at the Statehouse is hurting South Carolina's image outside of the state, where it's widely perceived as a symbol of hate and racism. But to many of Evans's customers, the flag means something else entirely.
JIM WARMACK: That flag did not cause any shootings in Charleston, and I feel terrible for those people.
ROSE: Jim Warmack lives in Landrum.
WARMACK: I'm originally from south Georgia. My great granddaddy fought in the Civil War.
ROSE: So when you see that flag, tell me what it means to you.
WARMACK: A flag of the Civil War. That's it, period - no black hating, white hating, anything like that.
DOUG BRANNON: I went into this with my eyes wide open. I understood that this is a divisive issue and it will cost me votes.
ROSE: Republican Doug Brannon represents the town in the state assembly. He counted Democratic State Senator Clementa Pinckney as a friend. Brannon says the shooting prompted him to introduce a bill that would remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.
BRANNON: I've been in office for five years. I've held that position that I just announced for many, many years, much longer than five years. And I didn't have the guts to do something when I first got elected. It was time that somebody had to say something.
ROSE: Brannon says he's gotten tens of thousands of messages since last week. He says the overwhelming majority have been positive, but not all.
CHARLES OWENS: I won't vote for him again.
ROSE: Charles Owens lives in Landrum. He thinks the Confederate flag should remain on the Statehouse grounds.
OWENS: Stay where it's at. It's a heritage to the South and it shouldn't be torn down.
ROSE: That's how Deborah Ponder feels, too.
DEBORAH PONDER: Is it hurting anyone? No. If somebody has sore feelings about it - get over it and move on.
ROSE: The town of Landrum is mostly white, and the mayor, Robert Briggs, says state representative Brannon might be a little ahead of the curve. But Briggs predicts that most people in the district will follow his lead.
MAYOR ROBERT BRIGGS: And I wouldn't want to ever see our history just rewritten, but I also understand that if something is so controversial and can create so much division among people, that maybe it's time to retire the flag from the Statehouse.
ROSE: The debate in the state capital is set to begin next month, but in countless towns like this one, it's already started. Joel Rose, NPR News, Landrum, S.C.