Andy Brack – A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 17 Feb 2019 15:51:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Andy Brack – 32 32 Don’t be so gullible as to let your freedoms slip away Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:06:31 +0000 “We hold these truths to be self evident:  that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those were Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776.  They’re filled with a courage found just days earlier on June 28 as South Carolina patriots defended a fort on Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston harbor from a massive land and sea attack by the British.  It was the first major patriot victory of the Revolutionary War. Word spread quickly and gave colonists the courage to declare independence.]]>

Americans shouldn’t have to be reminded about core values.  But with all that’s roiling in Washington, let’s go back to the beginning.

“We hold these truths to be self evident:  that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those were Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776.  They’re filled with a courage found just days earlier on June 28 as South Carolina patriots defended a fort on Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston harbor from a massive land and sea attack by the British.  It was the first major patriot victory of the Revolutionary War. Word spread quickly and gave colonists the courage to declare independence.

Through the years, that independent spirit forged values that became known as American all over the world — the continuing commitment to fairness and truth, the zeal to promote opportunity and the American dream through hard work, the passion of shared sacrifice to enhance the common good, an ongoing vow to do the right thing at home and abroad.  These ideals are intrinsically American, recognized in the image of America as the “shining city on a hill” as shared during presidencies from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan.

“In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

the bill of rights being trampled by elephants

In a farewell address, Reagan shared the importance of America as the beacon of opportunity that began in the 1630s by John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony:

And now five presidents later comes Donald Trump, who plays fast and loose with the rules and truth, who is placing economically-disadvantageous tariffs on American goods that likely will dampen the growing economy, who so wants an expensive border wall that he split kids from their parents and tried to blame others.  As this president tweets with selfish abandon, Congress plods. Too often, the media play along, looking at whatever new shiny thing Trump holds in one hand while the other is used to obfuscate, dissemble and trample the hard work of millions of Americans, especially those who do not look like him.

We should be outraged, not gullible.  We must protect the freedoms, human rights and values  championed in a 1941 speech by President Franklin Roosevelt:

Freedom of speech and expression.  Today’s “fake news” is nonsense infecting the country and dampening this basic First Amendment freedom.  Americans should not put up with lies and misrepresentations of verifiable facts.

Freedom of religion for people to worship how they choose.   It is unacceptable and un-American to demagogue red-blooded Americans who observe religions other than Christianity.

Freedom from want.  Artist Norman Rockwell portrayed this freedom as an iconic Thanksgiving dinner.  Roosevelt called for “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants.”

Freedom from fear.  Roosevelt framed this basic freedom as a reduction in armaments to reduce war and violence.  Today, it translates into quelling the nuclear arms race. Trump gets credit for engaging North Korea (although we worry he’s been played).  But he fans the flames of fear by killing an arms treaty to denuclearize Iran and, more recently, announcing the withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

America is a land of promise, a place that has thrived on shared sacrifice for the common good.   It’s hope and opportunity over deceit and greed. It’s love and helping others versus oppression and bigotry.  It’s about working out problems and moving forward, not embracing the sins of the past. It’s an ideal that freedom-loving people have aspired to since the days of Jefferson.

We need to move beyond an electorate that’s angry, a milquetoast Congress scared of its own shadow, out-of-control agencies and a president who struggles with truth daily.  Let’s not let the nattering nabobs of negativism, naysayers, greed-panderers and plutocrats fracture our shining city on the hill.  We must do better.

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New statue of Hollings captures his spirit, leadership, energy Tue, 18 Apr 2017 18:43:12 +0000

Statue of Senator Fritz Hollings by sculptor Rick Weaver unveiled in Charleston, SC. Photo by Andy Brack

Sculptor Rick Weaver captured the body language of Fritz Hollings just right in a new statue unveiled Monday as former colleagues heaped praises on the retired senator, now 95.

Hand of Fritz Hollings by Andy BrackThree things stand out in the bronze figure – the warm, but determined, look on Hollings’ face; how his left hand is grasping a rolled-up document; and, most notably, an outstretched right hand, a familiar gesture to many of the senator’s former staffers and friends.

“I asked him what he felt was the quality he possessed that allowed him to succeed in his work,” Charlottesville, Va., sculptor Weaver said in the ceremony program. “He said very quickly, ‘My ability to make friends.’ So in subtle ways, I tried to show that – his hand gesture, him turning to face someone. I wanted to convey how actively engaged he was all his life.”

Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Duffy, who was master of ceremonies during the two-hour event in a garden of the J. Waties Waring Federal Judicial Annex, noted that Hollings continued – even after retirement – to fight battles over ideas he believed in.  Duffy joked that the rolled-up scroll surely had the words “VAT tax,” or value-added tax, inscribed somewhere because Hollings, a lifelong Democrat, had long pushed the system as a way to provide government revenues.

The program included seven speakers, all of whom were eloquent in stories about Hollings’ five decades of public service from being a World War II Army officer to state representative, lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. senator.

Former Vice President Joe Biden at the unveiling of statue of Senator Fritz HollingsFormer Vice President Joe Biden, right, told the 400 people in attendance how he wouldn’t have been in the U.S. Senate or become vice president had Hollings not encouraged him.  Not only did Hollings, then chair of the Senate reelection efforts in Washington, endorse a 29-year-old Biden in 1972 when he was many points down in a poll, he inspired him.

“It meant more to me than just endorsing me,” Biden recalled.  “It gave me faith in myself.  Confidence matters and you instilled an enormous amount of confidence in me like you have in so many of your troops here,” pointing to dozens of former staffers.

He outlined how Hollings and his late wife, Peatsy, adopted him after his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash just weeks after Biden won the Senate election.  “They embraced me … and it had nothing to do with politics.”

Biden described how politics has always been about helping people – about “performance over promise,” mimicking a long-time campaign slogan:  “With you, it’s always been performance – always, always, always, always.”

Hollings briefly took the microphone to thank Biden.

“We sat together for 30 years and I can say without exception that he knew how to wheel and deal.  [President] Barack Obama was a brilliant candidate.  But he didn’t know how to wheel and deal and … he made a success because of Joe Biden and that made me proud.”

Other speakers noted Hollings’ long list of accomplishments, from winning the state’s first AAA credit rating and starting the technical college system to attract economic growth to having the courage to write about hunger in South Carolina and working to develop a federal women’s and children’s feeding program to give young children a fighting chance.  They outlined his work to protect sensitive environmental treasures, such as the ACE Basin, and curb runaway federal spending.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg at the unveiling of statue of Senator Fritz Hollings

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, above, a former Hollings campaign manager whose family was involved in Hollings’ political entire political career:  “It took four decades of Tecklenburgs to support one generation of Hollings.”

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster at the unveiling of statue of Senator Fritz Hollings

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, above, who joked about being the fifth “victim” in 1986 when he lost a Senate race to Hollings:  “He’s done a great job for the state and the country.  Senator Hollings, speaking on behalf of grateful citizens, thank you.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn at the unveiling of statue of Senator Fritz Hollings

Clyburn, center, greets friends including former state Circuit Judge Richard Fields who was wearing a hat.  At right in the red tie is former Mayor Joe Riley.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, reflecting on the creation of Congaree National Park:  “We have a national park here [in South Carolina] because of Fritz’s creativity and vision.”  Referring to people who will view the statue in the future, he added, “They may gaze upon this statue, but will never be able to know what you have meant to this state, but I know this – it’s immeasurable and I thank you for it.”

Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, on Hollings’ tenacity and energy in working to help Charleston rebuild after Hurricane Hugo in 1989:  “We had this dynamo in Washington determined to get every federal resource he could to Charleston.”

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, above, who said he was blessed to have Hollings as a mentor in his early days in the Senate: “Your name should be on more [buildings].  You represent the greatest generation well.”

Former staffer Mary Jo Manning, a Charleston native, referring to Hollings’ vast knowledge:  “Google wasn’t around for most of his career, but he didn’t need it.  The staff did.”

Hundreds listened to the ceremony near the Four Corners of Law.


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It’s about to get a whole lot more interesting Mon, 31 Oct 2016 21:54:02 +0000

2016 Presidential Election Map - Average magine of presidential victory 1992-2008

The South is not completely red politically, just as it is not home to only rednecks.

Come November 8, Southerners will cast about 33 million votes in this oddest and nastiest of presidential elections. Of those, more than 15 million will be for the Democrat, Hillary Clinton. That’s a lot of blue living in what most assume is just red.

Yes, our region, just like our nation, is more purple than just red or blue. In Southern state and federal elections, we’re a reddish purple. In many urban areas in the South, we skew a little more blueish purple.

Recent polls indicate Clinton likely will replicate Southern electoral victories by Barack Obama in 2008, with narrow wins in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. Republican nominee Donald Trump likely will carry the other Southern states, but 45 percent to 48 percent of voters in each probably won’t vote for him, based on past results. Many people don’t think of Alabama or Mississippi as being particularly friendly to Democrats, but 800,000 Alabamans will vote for Clinton and a half million Mississippians will vote Democratic. In South Carolina, look for about 850,000 voters to pick Clinton, compared to about a million for Trump.

These projections, of course, are dependent on recalibrations of voter behavior in a presidential contest that has defied logic and traditional strategic assumptions. If Clinton’s email issues get stickier or Trump’s temper gets worse, the margins could change.

Presidential election results in the South US 2008-2012But more than likely, Clinton will squeak out a national win in the popular vote, but crush Trump in the electoral college, garnering much more than the 270 votes she needs to win.

Had Trump been more disciplined in recent months, focusing on the country instead of being petty and narcissistic, the race could be much closer.

“He didn’t raise money. He didn’t build his ground game. And he didn’t stay focused on his key core message,” said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts. “He got sidetracked.”

While Clinton has high negatives (just not as high as Trump’s), she’s still not a shoe-in. But her mostly calm demeanor, compared to off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness rants by Trump, may be what wins the day on November 8.

American Party member Emile DeFelice of Columbia, who operates a shop on Main Street, overheard a conversation among some prominent bankers he recognized in a coffee shop after one of the Clinton-Trump debates.

“They all seemed to have mutually agreed that there was no way they were going to vote for that guy (Trump),” he said. “Banks don’t like instability and Donald Trump is nothing but instability.”

Almost by default for many voters, Clinton seems to have become the candidate of the business establishment, even though Trump comes from the world of business. Sure, many Republicans will hold their noses and vote for Trump because he’s at the top of the ticket for a party they love. But a sizable number may not vote or will cast ballots for other party’s candidates.

If Clinton wins, what happens next to the GOP will be, in the understatement of understatements, most interesting.

Some will bemoan the demise of the Republican Party. But it’s been around a long time and won’t go away without a fight. In fact, we believe it will get stronger by coalescing around basic principles. If the alt-right wing of the GOP splits off with Trump-like politicians as leaders of a new party, traditional Republicans may be free of pests that have defined them in recent years.

Country club Republicans then will have a chance to reawaken messages of old-school Republicanism marked by frugality and moderation on social issues. It surely won’t take too long for the alt-right movement to lose its fire in a sea of disorganization just as happened a few years ago to the tea party when it fizzled like dud fireworks that never get off the ground.

If Clinton wins, Democrats will need to keep arrogance in check. They would be smart to reinvigorate their brand to keep from losing voters to a new GOP. And they’d be smart to try to work with Republicans.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “May you live in interesting times.” They’re about to get a whole lot more interesting.


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Enjoying Fritz Hollings’ colorful language again Tue, 30 Aug 2016 21:55:27 +0000


More than a decade after South Carolina’s Fritz Hollings left the United States Senate, people still talk about how he would talk about things.

Whenever Hollings took the floor of the Senate to make a speech, staffers would often stop their day-to-day business and watch on the Senate’s internal television network to listen to what he would say.

“That’s like delivering lettuce by way of a rabbit,” Hollings could be heard when discussing something dysfunctional about government spending.

When a program had run off the rails, you’d likely hear “the ox is in the ditch.”  You might wonder, “Where?  Where is the ox in the ditch?  Why did he say that,” before realizing, perhaps, that he was harkening to colloquial sayings from agricultural days to make a point.

And then there was the old classic standby:  “That’s like the fireplug wetting the dog.”

Fairly frequently, you’d also hear about mules, specifically how there was no second education in the kick from one, or how he was tired of the shenanigans and “monkeyshines.”

With a rich baritone inflected with the mesmerizing Gullah sounds of his Lowcountry heritage, Hollings’ voice can charm or mince, depending on what he wants to accomplish.  Staffers often didn’t know what would come out of his mouth.

After Hurricane Hugo, he called FEMA “a bunch of bureaucratic jackasses.”  Frustrated with the Atlanta airport, he once told the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administrator, “If Sherman had had to go through that airport, we’d have won that damned war.”

During an internal policy debate, he once asked a staffer, “What the hell kind of law school did you go to?”

It was fairly easy to figure out when you were losing an argument, with Hollings asking, “How many times have you been elected to the United States Senate?” Or, “Son, when I was your age, I was governor.  What do you know?”

And then there was the sentence I occasionally heard as a press secretary: “You don’t know from sic’ em.”  I never knew what “sic ‘em” was, but I knew it was not something that was good.  I also knew the conversation was over.  And it was definitely over if you heard this:  “Close that door … with you on the other side.”

On the campaign trail, Hollings, now 94, is remembered for some zingers.  He told former GOP U.S. Rep. Tommy Hartnett during a debate that he was “full of prunes.”  Current Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who ran against Hollings in 1986 as a tough, young federal prosecutor, got this memorable retort after challenging Hollings to take a drug test:  “I’ll take a drug test when you take an I.Q. test.”

It wasn’t only Republicans who were on the receiving end of Hollings’ barbs.

In 1990, broadcaster Sam Donaldson tried to zing Hollings, an avowed protectionist, at the end of the final segment of ABC’s “This Week” by asking whether he had a Korean tailor.  “I think I got that suit — this is not the one — the same place right down the street where — if you want to personalize this thing — where you got that wig, Sam.” The show ended.

During a 1984 Democratic presidential primary debate, Hollings referred to fellow candidate Sen. John Glenn’s accomplishments as an astronaut by asking, “But what have you done in this world?”

Ouch.  But Hollings hasn’t been shy about poking fun at himself, sometimes linking the white hair on his head to a Q-tip.

“People always wonder how [late wife] Peatsy and I stay together with so many divorces these days,” Hollings once said.  “And a friend of ours used to say, ‘It’s simple.  They have a lot in common.  They’re both in love with the same fella.’”

One former staffer remembers the time when a Mercedes pulled up to a traffic light and Hollings rolled down the window and asked the other driver to do the same.  He then asked, “Pardon me, but may I borrow your Grey Poupon?”

Storytellers and leaders like Fritz Hollings who serve government are a rare breed today. We need more of them. Not only do they inject a little much-needed humor into the increasingly dull and fractious world of politics, but they liven up any party.

If you’d like to read a compilation of 38 classic “Hollingsisms” compiled by his staff before Hollings retired in 2005, click here.

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Nation faces scary times with November election Mon, 22 Aug 2016 20:16:56 +0000

The seeds of a new revolution are in the ground. If they get enough water in the November election, there’s no telling what will happen.

Pundits, who often only seem to talk to each other and read pointy-headed reports and memos written by peers, appear totally confounded about what’s going on in the electorate as tanking GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to foment disarray and discontent. Just when the talking heads think they’ve got Trump figured out, he does something new that bewitches them more – to the delight of his followers.

With presidential election politics so volatile, perhaps it’s time to stop looking at the daily horse race and consider what might happen actually after November 8. History may provide a guide.

Zachary Taylor at the White House daguerreotype by Mathew Brady
Daguerreotype of Gen. Zachary Taylor, taken at the White House, by photographer Mathew Brady, in March 1849. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.

The closest parallel to today’s odd election is way back in 1848 when the two leading parties – the Whigs and the Democrats – wanted a Mexican War hero, Gen. Zachary Taylor, to be their candidate. Taylor, a Southerner who bragged he had never voted and was mostly apolitical, went with the Whigs, who were being torn apart by internecine struggles over slavery and whether it should allowed in new states and territories.

Former state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex, who has started a moderate, alternate party in South Carolina called the American Party, sees some modern similarities with in the 1848 election, describing Taylor as “sort of Trumpy.”

“This pompous, self-absorbed, do-nothing with no experience was the beginning of the end of the Whig Party,” Rex observed. Taylor, who died less than two years into his term, did little to quell the growing national questions over slavery, which eventually pulled the Whigs apart.

In February 1854, “a number of Conscious Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Anti-Slavery Democrats met in Ripon, Wisconsin, … to recommend the organization of a new political party pledged to oppose the further extension of slavery,” historian Paul F. Boller Jr. wrote. Five months later, a new party called the “Republican Party” emerged just in time for the election of 1856.

More than 100 years later in 1964, Republicans faced a defining moment in the campaign of conservative Barry Goldwater, as the party embraced disaffected Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond over civil rights, observed conservative strategist Avik Roy, who believes the GOP may be headed toward the fate of the Whigs.

“Conservative intellectuals, and conservative politicians, have been in kind of a bubble,” Roy said in a article last month. “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism – philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.”

The GOP, Roy argued, needs to deal with race, an echo of postmortems after its 2008 and 2012 losses by candidates to Barack Obama. Instead this year, the party has turned to a divider, not a healer.

“Trump is a creation of the Republican Party,” Rex said. “He is their Frankenstein and the monster got up off the table after all of these years.”

So what’s ahead? If Trump, who appears way behind in Electoral College votes, pulls off a win, Republicans probably will circle the wagons of harmony some, but continue to be plagued by disarray between country club stalwarts and Trump-supporting, anti-immigrant voters who expect the red meat of change never envisioned by Obama. Moderates across party lines could get sick of the disarray and, despite institutional hurdles, form a moderate third party.

If Clinton wins? A likely scenario is more disarray in Washington as the gridlock that crippled Obama’s agenda will continue. The Republican brand will be severely hurt and factionalism will ensue, but anti-Democratic forces could unite over key issues to thwart Clinton’s initiatives. Meanwhile, third parties like the Libertarians and Greens will try to take advantage to attract more followers as a viable alternative.

Rex believes politics in America has reached a tipping point. “Things can change more dramatically and quickly in American politics than most people think,” he observed.

More and more, it looks like the election of 2016 will spawn some kind of change, but change defined by disarray. It seems likely that the candidate who wins will be a one-term president as the country tries to make sense of whatever happens.


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We need more inspirational leaders like William Winter Sun, 14 Aug 2016 11:14:56 +0000
Winter, in center, at a Mississippi church. Photos courtesy The Winter Institute.
Winter, in center, at a Mississippi church. Photos courtesy The Winter Institute.

Whenever there’s a letter or card in the mail from Mississippi, it’s bound to be inspirational. And it’s bound to be from a guy you might not have heard of but should know more about.

Meet former Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter, a public sector healer whose decency, goodness and vision for a better South gently motivates people to be kinder and more accepting of each other.

Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter

Winter, a Jackson lawyer who held the top political office in Mississippi from 1980 to 1984, is still known for pushing public education reform in his home state for the first time in years, including the establishment of public kindergartens. Since serving as governor, he has gained a national reputation for encouraging racial reconciliation and his unrelenting support for public education.

At age 93, Winter continues to inspire, often sending words of encouragement after meetings or encounters. In May 1995, for example, Winter sent a letter stirring me to continue to developing what became a regional think tank. He wrote, “You have laid out an intriguing and ambitious program which, if fully implemented, could transform the politics of the South in the right way. Right now we are seeing a transformation in the wrong direction.”

A trim figure drawn to charcoal suits, white shirts and maroon ties, Winter might remind you of a hardscrabble farmer. Whenever you encounter him, he exudes a curiosity about life and what you’re doing to make it better.

This curiosity was in no better display than in October 1995 in Washington, D.C., after lunch in the U.S. Senate dining room. That day, hundreds of thousands of African Americans met on the National Mall for the Million Man March. One of the largest demonstrations in history, many white leaders seemed intimidated. Not Winter. As I headed back to the office, I asked what he was going to do during the afternoon. He pointed toward the mall and said something like, “I’m going to head down here to listen.”

That’s the kind of guy he is — always probing, questioning, looking for ways to move his state and the region forward.

One of Winter’s protégés, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, told us he most admired Winter’s persistence and resilience in working for progress in Mississippi.

“Despite two defeats for governor, he wouldn’t give up and ran a third time, even when many suggested he couldn’t win,” said Mabus, who served as Mississippi’s governor from 1988 to 1992. “Governor Winter demonstrated the same commitment in pressing ahead with education reform in the 1982 special session, despite previous defeats. He never gives up. Still doesn’t.”

winter_glisson-300x245Ferrel Guillory, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who runs a program on public life, got to know Winter after he served as governor.

“He carved out an exemplary life-after-the-governorship role as a progressive ‘conscience of the South,’ traveling widely to inspire leaders, serving on key boards and commissions, speaking on the persistent need for closing racial and economic gaps, and urging Southerners to persist in advancing public education,” Guillory said.

“Governor Winter has demonstrated the high art of public leadership, acting with integrity and with deep human concern for his fellow citizens, regardless of their station in life. He exemplifies what it means to be an engaged citizen, combining practicality and vision. And I am honored to have him as a friend.”

So are the hundreds of others who continue to be inspired by his goodness. In May after we had breakfast in Jackson, he sent these kind words:

“We have to find the political will and concern to support more investment in public education and the cultural activities that lift us out of our suspicion of change and our preoccupation with clinging to the myths of the past. We have such a rich heritage in this region that can make for a greatly enriched quality of life for everybody if we will just listen to the best angels of our nation, instead of those base instincts that bring out our negativism and fears.”

We all have people in our lives who inspire us — parents, teachers, coaches, ministers and public figures. We need more like William Winter.


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The remarkable story of forgiveness in Charleston Sun, 12 Jun 2016 01:55:30 +0000
Dozens of bouquets lined a sidewalk last year outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Dozens of bouquets lined a sidewalk last year outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston

Almost a year later, the remarkable words of family members in pain still ring in our ears.

“I forgive you,” one said in a crowded courtroom. “May God have mercy on you,” another added. “Hate won’t win,” said a third.

One after another, five people squeezed by turmoil forgave an accused killer, who stood pancake-faced in shackles in a separate room and watched his bond hearing on a television screen.

The world listened. And despite a lot of hurt and anger, a powder keg of resentment and mistreatment that had erupted in other communities didn’t explode in Charleston following the murders of nine people at Emanuel AME Church.

Instead of riots and conflict, the world witnessed a community where people held on to each other and didn’t mimic the killer’s hate.  Had words of forgiveness from a daughter, husband, mother, granddaughter and sister not been uttered as a response for the evil that took away their loved ones, there’s no telling what would have happened. Their strength and faith unified a community numbed by how anyone could enter a house of worship, pray for an hour and then fire 77 bullets.

The capacity for forgiveness doesn’t mean people aren’t angry, even today. But being forgiving is a way of managing rage — of compartmentalizing emotional turmoil and turning it over to a higher authority as a way to persevere.

We are Charleston by Herb Frazier, Bernard Edward Powers Jr Ph.D., and Marjory WentworthIt’s also a legacy of slavery, the Rev. Joseph Darby of Charleston told writers of a new book, “We Are Charleston,” which explores what happened at the church, its history and the legacy of the events of June 17, 2015.

“If you have no prospects to escape, you try to figure out how to forgive so that you can move on for your own psychological well-being,” Darby said. “I think that’s baked into the Southern African American experience. That doesn’t mean I absolve you of all responsibilities; it just means I forgive you.”

Hating and acting out based on hate lets the hate win. It can be all-consuming and lead to destruction.  But by forgiving and not acting out, people — even angry people — keep their dignity and do not lose their humanity. A powerful passage in the book illustrates:

“Whatever we may believe, the power of the families’ statements is larger than them. Their strength seemed to come from somewhere else, and who can say where faith resides? Their words touched something deep inside each of us. [Family member Anthony] Thompson says that as soon as he spoke, he began to experience peace. ‘When I sat down, I was a different person. I wasn’t the person thinking like when I came in there [into the courtroom],  “What happening to my wife?” No more. I said, “God, you’ve got her; you gave me my peace this morning.” I knew where to go from there. I still just don’t know exactly what to do, but I knew not to dwell on the tragedy anymore. And I never dwell on [accused killer] Dylann Roof for one minute, for one second.’”

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. The tragedy at Mother Emanuel AME Church still is raw. You see it as people still leave flowers in front of the church on Calhoun Street.  You see it in the bowed heads of visitors who make a point to stop by, say a private word and pay their respects.

The new book by poet laureate Marjory Wentworth, veteran reporter Herb Frazier and historian Bernard Powers Jr. may help you understand why the events after the tragic shooting turned out in Charleston the way that they did and how the community seems stronger now than ever before.

A year after the shootings, I’m not sure I will ever be able to forgive as quickly and with the grace, dignity and strength of the relatives of those who died. But I’m thankful for their strength — thankful for their continuing inspiration that serves as a lesson to all of us to set aside petty differences and work together to strengthen our bonds of friendship, community and state.

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Celebrating, honoring Pat Conroy’s gifts Tue, 08 Mar 2016 17:14:45 +0000 The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life: “Nathalie’s voice is deep and musical and seductive...]]>

Pat Conroy

Writer Pat Conroy, who died Friday night, had a way with words that can only be described as an incredible gift. Perhaps no one more aptly painted word pictures of love, loss, beauty, yearning, pain, grief and aspiration.

Whether fiction or memoir, Conroy could tell a story like no one else. Just read his ebullient description of the inimitable author and chef Nathalie Dupree, the subject of the first chapter of his cookbook, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life:

“Nathalie’s voice is deep and musical and seductive. She possesses the rare ability to be both maddening and hilarious in the course of a single sentence. Her character is a shifting, ever-changing thing, and she reinvents herself all over again every couple of years. In one way, she seems the same, yet you are aware she is in the process of complete transformation. When she tells about her life, you could swear she was speaking about a hundred women, not just one.”

As a tribute to his immense talent, what better way to honor is memory than to share some of his pearls of wisdom in words, his power and glory:

“Without music, life is a journey through a desert.” — Beach Music

“A recipe is a story that ends with a good meal.” — The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of my Life

“The most powerful words in English are ‘Tell me a story,’ words that are intimately related to the complexity of history, the origins of language, the continuity of the species, the taproot of our humanity, our singularity, and art itself.” — My Reading Life

“I’m not the lovable, wonderful, tenderhearted grandfather that you read about in books. I’m grouchy and curmudgeonly, and I have a lot of rules.” — Interview with Pat Conroy, Atlanta Magazine, Sept. 30, 2013

“Happiness is an accident of nature, a beautiful and flawless aberration.” ― The Lords of Discipline

“There is no teacher more discriminating or transforming than loss.” — My Losing Season: A Memoir

“I’ve never had anyone’s approval, so I’ve learned to live without it.” ― The Great Santini

“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” ― The Prince of Tides

“Her laughter was a shiny thing, like pewter flung high in the air.” — Beach Music

“It’s an easy state to love and a hard one to leave. But, on occasion, South Carolina can rise up and steal your soul with a moment so magical it seems like an exorcism. It has happened to me dozens of times since I’ve taken up residence here. The sight of the sun setting in all its gold-rimmed majesty over a great salt marsh in Beaufort County is as restorative as a shot of sour-mash bourbon. The shaded streets south of Broad in Charleston can bring even Europeans to their knees. The gardens of Middleton Plantation in the springtime make you ache with pleasure. Pawleys Island is the most delightful, wondrous place in South Carolina and I envy any child who gets to grow up there.” — Introduction to State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, 2013.

“There is no teacher more discriminating or transforming than loss.”— My Losing Season: A Memoir

“A library could show you everything if you knew where to look.” — My Reading Life

Donald Patrick Conroy, 1945-2016. Rest in peace.

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Have fictional characters hijacked the presidential primaries? Sun, 21 Feb 2016 00:12:39 +0000

Alf, Robin, Grandpa, Droopy, Calvin, Jerry, Doc Brown and LisaWith all of the finger-pointing, gesticulating, spite, retorts, nasty responses to retorts, robocalls and flood of oversized postcards, the presidential primary process has become a mess, more of a reality television show than reality.

It’s as if the grind of politics, which has been the social equivalent to a root canal for many, has become a caricature of itself.  It’s as if real people are really acting like cartoon characters.

Wait — let’s explore that notion a little, at least to have a little fun with what’s going on (because everybody is so serious that they have sucked dry the fun that politics can be).

So if our presidential politics were taken over by fictional equivalents of current candidates, who would they be?  Here’s a list of possibilities on the Republican side:

  • Donald Trump:  How about ALF, the blustery but friendly extraterrestrial from a sitcom of the 1986-1990 sitcom of the same name?  At least the hair is the same.  And, opponents might say, Trump is also from outer space on some days.
  • Marco Rubio:  An easy one — Batman’s sidekick Robin, the boy wonder?
  • Ted Cruz:  Grandpa Munster, nickname for Vladimir Dracula, count of Transylvania in “the Munsters,” 1964-66)?  Cruz certainly isn’t as old, but with a cape and some makeup — he could be a doppelganger for the fictional character.
  • Jeb Bush:  Droopy, the animated cartoon white dog with black ears and a droopy face?   The notion of droopiness kind of sums up what’s become of the former Florida governor’s campaign.
  • John Kasich:  Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes?  Isn’t the Ohio governor and former congressman kind of a mix of the devilish pragmatist with a streak of boy-next-door geekiness?
  • Ben Carson:  A modern-day version of Jerry Lewis’s character in The Absent-minded Professor?  Sometimes the doctor seems to be more in the lab than on the campaign trail.

And the Democrats:

  • Hillary Clinton:  Lisa Simpson?  Smart and self-assured, but suffering in the shadow of someone much more popular and fun?
  • Bernie Sanders: Emmett Lathrop “Doc” Brown, the fictional Ph.D. played by actor Christopher Lloyd in the Back to the Future movie trilogy.

So now that we know the fictional players, let’s stretch this mind game a little further — at least it’s more fun that watching another strident television commercial.  What would happen if these characters were to face off in a single-elimination tournament format like the NCAA basketball championship?

First up on the Republican side are the establishment candidates:  Boy Wonder, doing well in the polls, gets a bye before facing Droopy Dog and Calvin.  Calvin wins the opening match, but loses despite a lot of newspaper support in the second round to Boy Wonder.

Then there are the Republican anti-establishment candidates:  Alf, the alien, gets a bye.  That leaves Grandpa Munster to face the Absent-Minded Professor, who loses embarrassingly.  Then Munster, full of gusto and venom tries to knock off Alf, but the superpowers and hair are just too much.

The final GOP round finds Boy Wonder versus Alf.  It’s close for awhile, but Alf throws a punch or two from outer space and Boy Wonder looks like a deer in headlights (remember the debate with Chris Christie?)  Alf wins.

On the Democratic side, there’s no need for any elimination rounds so it’s just Lisa Simpson versus Doc.  Both are smart and sassy, but Doc’s hare-brained ideas just don’t keep up with Lisa’s determination and drive to succeed.  Lisa wins in overtime.

So the big championship game, after many contests and much time on the court, winds up being Alf against Lisa Simpson.

Who do you think would win?

South Carolina’s primaries may do something to clarify what’s really happening in the presidential primary process.  But with the way this season has been going, it’s probably more likely that things will get much muddier before they settle down.

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New book on South offers expected clichés, but some good stories Sat, 07 Nov 2015 19:06:28 +0000 Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, brings very mixed reactions. On more than one occasion, I wondered, “Where does this guy get off saying that?” And I grab the book and want to hurl it through the window. These fits particularly came after one of Theroux’s elitist, degrading attempts at phonetically capturing the Southern accent. But the book also shows he’s a great storyteller who occasionally makes an interesting observation. “Well, that’s a good point,” I would think. “Don’t get rid of it yet.” And I kept reading.]]>

Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul TherouxNoted travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux’s new book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, brings very mixed reactions.

On more than one occasion, I wondered, “Where does this guy get off saying that?” And I grab the book and want to hurl it through the window. These fits particularly came after one of Theroux’s elitist, degrading attempts at phonetically capturing the Southern accent.

But the book also shows he’s a great storyteller who occasionally makes an interesting observation. “Well, that’s a good point,” I would think. “Don’t get rid of it yet.” And I kept reading.

For 50 years, Theroux, who is obviously not from the South, has traveled the corners of the earth — India, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Patagonia and China. But he realized he knew little about a lot of his own country, particularly the American South.

“I made it my habit to drive past the buoyant cities and obvious pleasures in favor of smaller places and huddled towns, to meet the submerged twenty percent,” he wrote, explaining why he bypassed the prosperous South of Charleston and Hilton Head Island.

In doing so, he got an incomplete picture of today’s South. He found cliché and decay. He found desolation, poverty, hopelessness and hunger in rural South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and elsewhere.

Yes, those areas exist and are much too prevalent. But he missed urban booms, promises and other problems that make today’s South so much more of a complicated region, as witnessed by the outstanding quality of life for rich folks in gated communities who are often served by the poor who ride buses for hours to get to the only jobs they can find. It’s almost as if he found the South to be a highly-functioning alcoholic, but he only focused on the disease, not any of the good.

South Carolina native Jack Hitt, whose brother happens to run the state Department of Commerce, slammed Theroux’s book as filled with “superficial stereotypes” with “observations worthy of a freshman sociology major.”

Writes Hitt in The Washington Post, “His big discovery is that the poor areas of the Deep South are heartbreakingly poor — which is true, and was true when Robert Kennedy’s 1968 Appalachian tour, Walker Evans’s photographs, …”

When Theroux started quoting Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, whose Turn in the South was a similar misinformed discovery of the obvious about the South, I knew the book was in trouble. He also waxed on about writers like William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell, obvious sources of Theroux’s gothic, gritty preconceptions. He was looking for that South and, predictably, found it in places like Allendale, South Carolina’s poorest town.

About a third of Deep South is about South Carolina and includes stories about the Orangeburg Massacre, Strom Thurmond, drunks at the Aiken Steeplechase and attending black church services. But Theroux’s focus in the Palmetto State is on the desolation and desperation of Allendale. He fixates on how Indians run convenience stores and a motel: “There was something weirdly colonial about the presence of Indians in the rural South, which reminded me of Africa: the Indian shop in the dusty upcountry town, the overpriced and grubby merchandise, the locals squatting under the trees [drinking alcohol], giving parts of the South an even more dramatic, sleepier, unfixable Third World appearance.”

While Theroux told stories of how the nonprofit Allendale County Alive is trying to help people in the area get better housing, he missed how USC-Salkehatchie’s new dormitory is energizing the community or how the new Promise Zone is bringing people together to make positive changes. Focusing on the negative and problems just must have been easier.

Despite the book’s narrowness, Theroux got a couple of things right. He found Southerners — from gun nuts to the poor — to be hospitable and kind. And he understood many poor areas are having a tough time economically because of how mechanization hurt family farms and how big American businesses shifted the only jobs left in rural areas to other counties.

If you must, read Deep South. But the 441-page book can be summarized simply: People in the rural South are good folks, but a lot of them are poor. (Thanks. We know that.)

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Today’s deadlines not as tough as those 150 years ago Tue, 27 Oct 2015 13:42:06 +0000 commentary taking the South Carolina General Assembly to task for caterwauling about a court-imposed time limit on school funding, I observed how reporters face “deadlines” all of the time, just as courts impose deadlines frequently. I got to wondering about how the word “deadline” came about. I was surprised to learn...]]>

The Civil War is alive every day for reporters and editors — and they may not even know it.

A couple of weeks back in a commentary taking the South Carolina General Assembly to task for caterwauling about a court-imposed time limit on school funding, I observed how reporters face “deadlines” all of the time, just as courts impose deadlines frequently.

I got to wondering about how the word “deadline” came about. I was surprised to learn it appears to have come from Civil War prison camps.

The perimeters of the Andersonville stockade and deadline are marked by rows of posts like these.
The perimeters of the Andersonville stockade and deadline are marked by rows of posts like these.

According to, the word is newspaper jargon dating from around 1920, but apparently was influenced by a “do-not-cross” line in Civil War prisoner-of-war camps. Prisoners who crossed the a particular line were shot dead.

In 1865, Swiss-born Confederate Capt. Henry Wirz commanded Camp Sumter, a miserable prisoner-of-war camp near Andersonville, Ga. Intended as a temporary camp when established in February 1864, it became a place known for deplorable, overcrowded conditions — little food, potable water, poor sanitation, disease and minimal shelter. Some 45,000 Union prisoners arrived at the camp; almost 13,000 died, according to the National Park Service.

When the Union army arrived in May 1865, U.S. Cavalry Capt. Henry E. Noyes arrested Wirz and took him to Washington for trial on charges of conspiring to destroy federal prisoners and “murder, in violation of the laws and customs of war.” Wirz was convicted and executed in November 1865.

During the trial, it came out that Wirz “did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure containing said prisoners a ‘dead line,’ being a line around the inner face of the stockade or wall enclosing said prison and about twenty feet distant from and within said stockade,” according to an Army report on the trial. Guards were told to kill any prisoner who touched, fell on or crossed the “dead line” that limited their movements.

Dead-lines were not unique to Andersonville, according to the Park Service.  There was even one on Morris Island near Charleston.  A Union prisoner-of-war camp known as Camp Douglas (1863-65) in Chicago also apparently had a “dead line.” According to Wikipedia, “a few prisoners were wounded or killed by guards who saw them step over the “dead line” near the boundaries of the camp or commit minor offenses, but such occurrences occurred infrequently.”

As time passed, the term “deadline” seems to have been picked up by the newspaper business to indicate how serious a particular time limit was for a story.

Now we know.

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Fix SC education funding and stop caterwauling about deadlines Wed, 21 Oct 2015 14:02:09 +0000

Hands Raised iStock_000016869764XSmallYou might not get much in your morning newspaper if reporters didn’t turn in stories by a certain time. Deadlines keep reporters — and columnists — on task. If there were not a specific time limit to submit a story for publication, the story might never get written. There’s always somebody else you can call or interview.

Like newspapers, courts set deadlines frequently. Time limits provide some certainty in the often long, convoluted judicial process and move cases along toward conclusions. In some cases, like the redrawing of political districts required by law, there’s only a limited time for new lines to be drawn. When reapportionment cases end up in court, as they seem to do in South Carolina, judges frequently set deadlines so a plan can be developed and resolved. Then elections, a foundation of our democracy, can proceed as required by law. Without deadlines imposed by courts, there’s no telling how long it would take to even up the size of House, Senate and congressional districts.

So now come South Carolina legislative leaders, squawking about deadlines imposed by the S.C. Supreme Court. In November, it ruled the legislature and poor school districts had to come up with a solution to fund schools on a more equal basis.

On one hand, this caterwauling is somewhat justified because the case, Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina, was first filed by poorer school districts in 1993 in an attempt to get more equitable funding for “Corridor of Shame” schools. It took the court system 21 years to deal with the case. In recent years, the case sat virtually untouched at that same Supreme Court with no movement until intrepid reporters started writing, wondering what the heck was going on.

Bottom line: The Court didn’t move at lightning speed to ensure justice for poor school districts. Two generations of kids started and graduated from schools that were just about as lacking in 1993 as they were in November 2014 when the court finally put the state on notice that it had failed in its educational duties to poorer school districts.

It is, therefore, understandable that legislative leaders are a little miffed the high court is pushing hard now for a resolution — ruling that a plan for remediation and proposed legislation to fix the funding problem has to be in by Feb. 1, 2016 — just two days before the General Assembly is expected to vote on a new chief justice to replace retiring Jean Toal, who has been on the court since before the Abbeville case was filed.

Legislators now say the court’s push for a resolution to the case is paramount to creating a constitutional crisis — that the court is overstepping its constitutional authority by seeking to legislate from the bench.

Hogwash. First, courts have a responsibility to ensure that something found wrong — what lawyers call a “constitutional defect” — gets fixed so injustice does not continue. Second, legislators have long known the Abbeville case was going to be something that would cost big in the end. Instead of fixing school funding as the case lagged in the courts, the legislature mostly ignored it and kept on with business as usual, which we know generally means doing as little as possible before the next election.

What’s worrisome now is the General Assembly may try to use a different kind of crisis — the flood that exposed billions of dollars of transportation infrastructure needs — as an excuse to do nothing much to fix education funding. In short, that would be wrong. Indeed, it would be unconscionable.

This legislature should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. If members can’t, they need to get out of the way so we can elect people who can.

Don’t let fair education funding get snowballed by other needs. Stop complaining about deadlines and work with the court to move things along responsibly. South Carolina’s poor children have waited long enough.

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Confluence of factors drive momentum to take down flag Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:03:01 +0000
The Confederate battle flag flew outside the S.C. Statehouse Wednesday as mourners entered the building to pay their respects to slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper. (Ken Lund)
The Confederate battle flag flew outside the S.C. Statehouse Wednesday as mourners entered the building to pay their respects to slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper. (Ken Lund)

The S.C. General Assembly put the Confederate battle flag in a place of prominence on the Statehouse grounds. Now after nine deaths in the horrendous Charleston church shooting, the legislature must take it down.

Today, as the body of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the slain Jasper County Democrat and pastor of the church, lay in honor at the Statehouse, imagine the feelings of those who had to pass the Confederate flag before they paid their last respects.

That flag shouldn’t be there today or in the future. A governor can’t take it down.  But the legislature can — either by a supermajority vote to override the portion of a state law protecting the flag and areas named for historical figures. Or, as U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn argues, they could just repeal the whole law, which would only take a majority.

The battle flag apparently first got put on the Statehouse dome in 1961 as part of a centennial to commemorate the Civil War, according to a 1999 story in Point. The flag kept flying until passage of a legislative resolution the following year. Such resolutions apply only to the legislative branch, which controls what happens in the Statehouse buildings and grounds. Despite attempts at revisionist history by some conservative columnists, then-Gov. Fritz Hollings did not raise the flag because governors do not have approval or veto authority over legislative resolutions.

The move to fly the battle flag prominently was pushed by Aiken Rep. John A. May, a legislator so enamored by Confederate heritage that he reportedly wore a Confederate uniform around the Statehouse. As time passed, the flag became more controversial.  Although there were several attempts in the 1990s to remove it, including a march on Columbia from the Lowcountry led by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a compromise in 2000 put the flag in its current location.

Fast forward to today. In the week since the tragic, senseless shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, momentum surged to remove this Civil War icon — something that represents Southern heritage to some, but has grown exponentially to symbolize hate to many, many more.

Over the weekend, pressure increased on people like GOP Gov. Nikki Haley so that she could no longer ignore the divisive issue of the flag on Statehouse grounds. Prior to Monday, Haley bypassed the issue, saying CEOs interested in the state never brought up the issue. (The state, of course, obviously didn’t inquire. )

So how did this public reversal happen so quickly? Consider these pressure points:

  • Unified voices. The governor attended three large gatherings over four days with hundreds of people united in their outrage and pain over the shootings. Such emotional experiences had to shatter any notions that she could continue to overlook the flag issue.
  • Political power. It surely was no coincidence that the chairman of the Republican National Committee was part of the bipartisan Monday news conference during which Haley announced she thought the flag should come down. Party leaders surely don’t want 2016 presidential and other candidates constantly asked for their position on the flag. So they looked to Haley to get rid of the political problem for them — with the carrot of future political roles to speed change.
  • Business demands. South Carolina has worked hard to attract global companies — Michelin, BMW, Boeing and, now, Volvo — that want to do business, not stain their reputations with a political issue as divisive as the Confederate flag. Calls by the business leadership certainly had an impact on shifting state leaders’ position on the flag.
  • Religious reactions. Because the shooting occurred in a church, a place of sanctuary, black and white people of faith united in reactions of shock, horror and anger about the murders. And then when the victims’ families publicly forgave the shooter during a bond hearing last week, more momentum built for change.

South Carolina has been tested over the last 11 weeks, first with the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white cop in North Charleston, and then with the Charleston massacre. But unlike other places in America that erupted in violence after their challenges, South Carolinians united. It helped that a suspect was caught quickly. But this confluence of pressures, perhaps fueled by different motives, generated a tidal wave for something big to be done.

It’s pretty clear South Carolina has turned a big corner. As a state, we’ve still got a lot of healing and talking to do. But now, the legislature needs to catch up and finish the job by taking down the flag.

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Open the door of the race closet Tue, 23 Jun 2015 17:29:13 +0000

Most South Carolinians don’t know a lot of out-of-the-closet, vociferous racists. They’re probably around, just like they have been since two people who didn’t look like each other first met. But in our society — here and in other states — they generally live on the fringes.

A hundred years ago, racism was institutionalized in the South with Jim Crow laws and separate but equal schools. That changed after World War II as people marched to embrace civil rights. And while governments deinstitutionalized racism in accommodations, schools and meeting places, people’s attitudes took longer. The overt racism of the past became a more hidden, covert prejudice found today across the nation in persnickety comments, sharp glances, rolled-up windows at stoplights.

But what I know, today, is that most people in the South get along, regardless of skin color. People might have different economic circumstances. They might go to different churches. They might live in different neighborhoods. They might have different cultural traditions. But they generally are accepting and not hung up on race. White, brown, black people attend the same schools, restaurants, football games, libraries, grocery stores, malls, beaches, airports and so on.

I also know that people from outside the South have a hard time believing any of this, particularly with the rebel flag flapping in the wind outside the Statehouse in Columbia. Or when they see news of a white gunman going into a place of worship and shooting nine people at a prayer meeting. Or when a white cop uses a stun gun and then a pistol on an unarmed black man stopped for a traffic violation.

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley prepares Thursday to broadcast from outside the church.
CBS News anchor Scott Pelley prepares
Thursday to broadcast from outside the church.

Folks, there is evil in the world. There’s no two ways about it. It’s in South Carolina. It’s in Oregon. Good people must do what they can to thwart it. Otherwise, we’ll have more shootings like the one in Charleston. Or Newtown. Or Littleton. Or Aurora.

There are things we can do to combat this evil. It would help, for example, if we stopped fueling hate with bitterness, acrimony, divisiveness and partisanship in our political and community talk.

Quite frankly, America — not just South Carolina — needs to blast the closed door of race off its hinges and confront it vigorously. We need active community discussions, involvement and engagement over a long period to heal and deal with the issue. We need, as Columbia strategist Charles Weathers says, to have “courageous conversations.” Let’s target hate and racism just as we target lung cancer or some other dreaded disease — with education and resources.

It also wouldn’t hurt if symbols of hate were not prominently displayed, such as the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds. Yes, the flag represents heritage to some. But a far greater number find it to be a symbol of hate. If you want your flag, fine. Put it on your wall. Find it in a museum. But don’t publicly display it on state-owned land.

We also could do more to control the pervasiveness of handguns. There are more than 50 million in the United States. As a state, do we really need to make it easier for people to carry concealed weapons — without a permit, as a current House bill proposes — or do we need to make it tougher? For the record, I am not suggesting that people give up the right to own handguns. What I’m suggesting is more controls — criminal background checks, mental stability checks, longer waiting periods, controls on gun shows.

I can already hear the gun lobby’s arguments: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But those who want guns controlled like in every other advanced country find this ludicrous. Easy access to guns makes it more likely someone who is upset or mentally ill will turn to one and use it. Just look at our state’s high rate of domestic violence. Our legislature made a good start this year to try curb guns in the hands of abusers, but it’s only a beginning.

What happened in Charleston Wednesday night does not reflect the core of South Carolina. But we’ve got to prove it by working diligently to confront hate and eradicate the roots of racism so this kind of senseless tragedy never happens again.

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Charleston shooting brings sadness, shock, anger, frustration Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:38:02 +0000

As I headed to bed Wednesday night, a white gunman shot and killed nine people in an historic black church in the center of town just four blocks from where I used to live. Unaware of the evil, sleep came quickly.

But in the wee hours, the ping of a text from an Australian colleague woke me. I didn’t want to read it and tried to go back to sleep. But after tossing and turning, I read the text, only to learn the heart-wrenching news about what was going on a few miles away. I was dazed. Several instant reactions percolated and struggled to the surface.

State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Jasper County Democrat who was pastor at Emanuel AME Church.  He was one of nine killed Wednesday night during a prayer service.
State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Jasper County Democrat who was
pastor at Emanuel AME Church. He was one of nine killed
Wednesday night during a prayer service.

Deep, utter sadness for victims, their families and their incomprehensible loss. “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, ministered by state Sen. Clementa Pinckney who was killed in the senseless shooting, has always been an open, welcoming place, a harbor of comfort, a leader for bringing together black and white.

Shock that something so horrific could happen in the heart of Charleston, one of the world’s great small cities. Across the street from the church is one of the best public elementary schools around. Adjacent is a world-class performing arts center that is about to re-open after a long renovation. A couple of blocks away is the main library. In the other direction is a central square used weekly in the summers for a farmers market and just vacated by dozens of artists in town for Spoleto Festival USA.

Anger at a society that continues to glorify the gun culture and makes it easy for nuts to walk into a great place of worship and open fire. A bill to allow anyone to carry concealed weapons without a permit narrowly missed passing in the recent legislative session. Instead of making it easier to get and carry guns, state lawmakers across the country need to make it tougher.

Tired, frustrated and forlorn that some Southerners and Americans just can’t get beyond race. Skin has different colors, I tell our children, but people all have red blood, too much of which spilled Wednesday night in Charleston.   Right now at 4:30 a.m. in the morning, I don’t know what I’ll tell them when they wake up and learn that they won’t be going to summer day camp because it’s four blocks from the scene of the shooting spree.

Dozens of bouquets lined a sidewalk Thursday outside Emanuel AMC Church in Charleston.  The display board still lists the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney as the church's pastor.
Dozens of bouquets lined a sidewalk Thursday outside Mother
Emanuel AMC Church in Charleston. The display board still
lists the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney as the church’s pastor.

There’s never a good time for a tragedy, especially one of this magnitude that cuts to the core of how a community interacts and relates. But now, just 10 weeks after a white police officer in nearby North Charleston shot an unarmed black man to death after a traffic stop, there’s not been enough time for healing from that tragedy before the assault of another.

It’s clear that Charleston’s police and elected leaders were on top of the gruesome, heartbreaking shooting at Mother Emanuel, quickly branding it as a crime born of pure hate. Religious and other community leaders instantly mobilized to provide solace during the tumult.

What’s not clear yet is what Charlestonians will do now that it is on the list of locations of deadly mass shootings along with Blacksburg, Va. (32 dead in 2007), Newtown, Conn. (27 killed, 2012), Killeen, Texas (23 dead, 1991), San Ysidro, Calif. (21 killed, 1984), Littleton, Colo. (13 dead, 1999), Aurora, Colo. (12 killed, 2012).

This list is too long. Instead of waiting for the next shooting at a church, school or theater, something needs to be done to rein in the gun culture in America. Politicians need to stop kowtowing and being fearful of the likes of the National Rifle Association and its lobby. Instead, they need to put in reasonable gun safeguards that allow sportsmen to hunt, but implement ways to stop the senseless killing of good people.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

There’s no telling at this hour how many bullets were fired Wednesday night in Charleston, but it’s clear there were at least nine in a fairly short time period. That’s nine too many.

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