Neutralizing the right wing agenda

GEORGE E. CURRY | 7/6/2015, 7:46 a.m.
There’s a lesson to be learned from the Confederate flag quickly and unexpectedly falling into disfavor following the murder of ...
George Curry

(NNPA) – There’s a lesson to be learned from the Confederate flag quickly and unexpectedly falling into disfavor following the murder of nine Bible-studying African Americans, including the pastor, at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The lesson is that the economic clout of African Americans and their progressive allies can be used to pressure businesses to do the right thing, which in turn can keep the far right wing in check.

With every Southern governor’s mansion, Senate seat and 12 of the 13 Southern Statehouses controlled by Republicans (the Kentucky House is the lone exception), a corrosive sense of helplessness had begun to set in among some Blacks. After all, the majority of Blacks live in the South and once powerful Black Democratic state legislators have been politically neutered now that they are in the minority.

The tragedy in Charleston may have provided us with a blueprint for improving our predicament. First, it’s necessary to understand the role businesses played before and after Nikki Haley, the Republican governor of South Carolina, reversed her long-held position and advocated for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia.

According to The New York Times, “The chairman of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, an old friend of Ms. Haley’s named Mikee Johnson, polled his 56 board members about the future of the flag. Everyone who responded was of the same opinion. He called Ms. Haley and told her: If she was ready to bring down the Confederate banner, they were behind her.

“So was the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, the muscular association that represents giant international companies like BMW and Bridgestone Tire. Over the weekend after the shootings, its president, Mr. Gossett, urged members to draw up a strategy for finally ridding the State House of the flag.”

There were business reasons that motivated this change.

They were tired of explaining why a symbol of the American Confederacy lingered at the capitol of a state that wanted to lure workers from all over the world, the Times explained. To many of them, it was a source of embarrassment that the NCAA would not pick South Carolina to host championship events because of the flag, and in the college-sports-crazy state, coaches said it was an obstacle to recruiting.

To be clear, African Americans were at the forefront of this movement long before the business community belatedly flexed its muscles.

On July 15, 1999, the NAACP announced a boycott of South Carolina because it refused to remove the racially offensive flag from the Capitol. Five days later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s old organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, voted to move its 2000 national convention from Charleston.

The group Black Lives Matter, which grew out of the movement to protest the death of African Americans who died at the hands of police, organized an online petition at http://www.Moveon.org, collecting signatures at a rate of 5,000 signatures per hour.

And social media, especially Black Twitter, was ablaze.