S.C. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, the newly selected president of the College of Charleston, believes that his critics have it all wrong. He's not a racist, Rebel Flag-lovin' neo-Confederate. He's a reach-across-the-aisle compromiser and a champion of African-American causes. As such, he wants them to judge him by his actions
and not a silly photograph of him posing with two Gullah storytellers and his penchant for dressing up like a Confederate officer. The Post and Courier
, Joe Riley
, and even City Paper contributor Kwadjo Campbell
have said the exact same thing. And so, we shall.
To do that, we have to travel back to August 2002. At the time, the so-called Confederate Flag had been removed from the Statehouse dome in Columbia after flying for nearly 40 years. It had been raised by the all-white members of the S.C. General Assembly to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War and ostensibly to protest desegregation. The Rebel Flag, as it was popularly known, was never the national flag of the Confederate States of America — it was merely a lowly naval battle flag — and didn't come to symbolize the Confederacy until after the war, most notably during the waning days of Jim Crow.
The legislative compromise that brought the flag down in July 2000 was crafted by then Sen. McConnell, who proposed that the only way to properly honor the men who fought for the Confederacy was to ditch the Rebel Flag and raise the battle flag of the Gen. Robert E. Lee-led Army of Northern Virginia at a CSA memorial on Statehouse grounds. Again, one of the three official CSA national flags was not chosen. Make of that what you will.
Throughout the entire 1999-2000 debate over the placement of the Rebel Flag on top of the Statehouse dome, Columbia barbecue baron Maurice Bessinger was raising a ruckus over this attempt at "cultural genocide," to use Sen. McConnell's own words
. And so Bessinger raised a gigantic Rebel Flag
at his flagship Piggie Park and took down the Stars and Stripes.
But it was inside his store where Bessinger's true bigotry was on display. Not only did he sell neo-Confederate propaganda and anti-Lincoln tracts, he sold copies of a pamphlet entitled the "Biblical View of Slavery," a piece of racist trash detailing how the Bible itself justified the ownership of slaves by the men and women of the Confederate States.
Of course, that was at the turn of the millennium. Prior to that, Bessinger was an even more virulent racist. In fact, he refused to serve African Americans in his restaurant, a matter that ultimately ended in a U.S. Supreme Court decision forcing him to open his doors to blacks. In response, Bessinger reportedly put up the following sign
inside his restaurant: The law makes us serve niggers, but any money we get from them goes to the Ku Klux Klan. Yikes.
So considering all this, and noting that grocery stores across the South had begun pulling Maurice's BBQ sauce from their shelves in 2000 at the height of the Statehouse dome debate, the folks at SCANA, the state's largest utility company, informally banned its employees from displaying the Rebel Flag on their clothes, lunch boxes, cars, etc. SCANA also informally forbid its employees from parking SCANA-owned trucks at any one of Bessinger's Piggie Parks.
Apparently, this rubbed Glenn McConnell the wrong way. And just so we're clear, McConnell wasn't bothered that Bessinger took down the American flag, sold racist tracts, or once refused to serve blacks at his restaurant. Nah. He was just upset that SCANA wouldn't allow its employees to park company vehicles at Bessinger's restaurants because, you know, the guy was a hatemonger.
In fact, McConnell was so-incensed by this, he wrote the head of SCANA and promised legislative retribution if the utility didn't change its polices. The AP reported
, "[McConnell] said his proposal also would deprive SCANA of the noncompetitive, monopoly status it has and open competition to other utilities. 'They have a monopoly that is guaranteed, and then they turn around and try to hurt a restaurant's business!" said McConnell, who runs a Confederate memorabilia store."
The question is, why the outrage? Didn't McConnell believe that a company has every right to protect its image, and in this case the folks at SCANA obviously felt that any association with Bessinger was bad for business? Apparently not. And wasn't Bessinger's business, well, bad for true-gray Heritage-Not-Haters like McConnell himself? Wasn't Bessinger's clear-cut bigotry detrimental to the very cause that the then-senator supported? Oddly enough, McConnell didn't see it that way. For him, Bessinger deserved to be protected.
Which brings us to McConnell today. Apparently, there are a lot of folks who believe that McConnell deserves to be protected despite the numerous marks against him. Right now, they are pening op-eds and editorials in his favor and curtly dismissing the cries of the McConnell opposition. And for whatever reason, they have overlooked this key part in McConnell's history. But make no mistake, history won't forget, even if the CofC Board of Trustees, Joe Riley, Leon Stavrinakis, Jim Merrill, the Post and Courier, Kwadjo Campbell, and far too many others have.
Chris Haire is the author of the comic novel, The Many Crimes of Wyatt Duvall, Archmotherfucker, a despicable tale about dastardly man committing dastardly deeds. Oh, and dryer lint smoking. Lots of dryer lint smoking. It's currently available at Amazon.com.