Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd
Ethel Lee Lance
State Senator Clementa C. Pinckney
Four Little Girls:
Carol Denise McNair
Addie Mae Collins
Little Rock Nine:
Melba Pattillo Beals
Gloria Ray Karlmark
Carlotta Walls LaNier
In 1957, nine African-American teenagers risked their lives and endured public abuse to become the first blacks to integrate an all-white Arkansas high school. On September 15, 1963, four African-American little girls passed away when Klu Klux Klan members bombed the 16 Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on a Sunday morning. And on June 17, 2015, nine African-American adult members of Charleston, South Carolina’s legendary Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church lost their lives to a deranged young gunman they let into their Wednesday night prayer meeting.
My first impressions of the former two groups of people and prior two events came in middle school or junior high. Then, I became old enough to understand the proliferation of famous black faces in my classrooms and on the television as part of Black History Month celebrations. I began to realize my color, name and family belonged to a group of punished Americans now commended for surviving horror and putting up with pain. I thought this description of us was in the past. It took more life, years, and maturity to come to the overwhelming and incomprehensible realization that it is the present as well.
According to what I can see from my young relatives’ Facebook timelines, their first impressions of the Charleston Nine will come across crowded telephone screens and ever-fleeting social media. So, will these victims’ stories and names last? Will teachers and textbooks speak their names in the future? Will we remember them, and if so, how? Is this digital documentation tough enough to insure that, 50 years from now, we will still talk about these victims and these terrible days when their independence was stolen?
One way to move this tragedy and the deceased in it past public ephemera and into history is to forever connect the loss of their lives to a national symbolic act against domestic terrorism: the legally-mandated abolition of our Confederate flag, and civil prosecution of anyone who waves it. The flag is a stubborn nod back to our nation’s love affair with segregation, legal discrimination and physical torture of darker Americans. It haunts senior Americans who lived through painful times when it really meant something. It desecrates memory of all those many lives lost under its twisted doctrines.
On June 23, a group of South Carolina politicians and legislators gathered in the state Capitol to move toward outlawing the flag in effort to dissolve remnants of white supremacy and race hatred in the South. The flag still waves at government buildings, including the Capitol, as well as individual homes—many standing on former slave-owning plantation grounds. The group believes this open and ornamental throwback to the states in our nation who preferred anti-Democracy through black slavery influences new racists today, and antagonizes our national image of freedom and independence.
While the flag does have a prideful legacy as an innocent sign of Southern custom, traditions, and heritage, the Charleston Nine tragedy suggests such attributes can no longer outweigh its uglier dimensions. The day mentally-upset and emotionally-distressed racism victims, their families, and Americans-at-large can say it was made to disappear will move us forward more quickly than viral discussion of racism ever will.