Race Relations Tenuous

November 1, 1996
Race Relations Tenuous
by Rep James E. Clyburn (D-SC-6)

Capitol Column
Race Relations Tenuous
by Sixth District Congressman James E. Clyburn

November 1, 1996


I attended the Emergency Conference on Racism held in Columbia last month and was buoyed by the positive actions being taken to address this growing problem in South Carolina. The Conference was a very affirming experience that the community was making strides to overcome recent incidents like the burning of more than a dozen black churches.

My optimism was, however, soon shattered by headlines that two Ku Klux Klan members opened fire on a crowd of African-Americans in the early morning hours following the Emergency Conference on Racism. Three people were injured in the race-based attack. Luckily no one was killed.

The young men charged for the shooting, 18-year old Joshua England and 25-year old Clayton Spires, had attended a pro-Confederate flag rally earlier the same day. Now the leader of South Carolina’s K-K-K says the men are no longer welcome in his organization because he doesn’t condone violence.

It escapes logic that an organization that promotes hatred and seeks to divide people simply on the basis of skin color claims it doesn’t promote violence. Fanning the flames of hatred can only breed violence. It is no coincidence that the two Clarendon County men who have admitted burning two black churches are also members of the Klan. Promoting race-based hatred results in race-based violence.

I’m greatly saddened by the constant effort to take a step forward only to be sent two steps back. During the Emergency Conference on Racism participants called on Governor Beasley to use his influence to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse dome. Ministers of the burned black churches also called for a national march against racism to be held in South Carolina next year. These are two positive solutions that can help bring South Carolinians. Race-related hate crimes that had once been squelched to isolated incidents, have festered and exploded into regular occurrences.

It is ludicrous for these hate organizations to express outrage after these hate crimes occur. No one seeks their condemnation of these events, rather we acknowledge the rhetoric they spew, at the very least, contributes if not creates the atmosphere where these heinous attacks are condoned and even encouraged.

Both the South Carolina Council of Conservative Citizens and the Klan are trying to distance themselves from racially motivated hate crimes. A member of the pro-confederate flag group denies involvement saying his is a good Christian organization. The Klansman who holds the title of Grand Dragon of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan would agree.

It is offensive that these organizations that pit people against one another would wrap themselves in the cloak of Christianity for protection. The rhetoric they promote is neither Christian nor harmless. Using words of hatred to incite violent actions makes these organizations just as culpable as the men who fired the shots.

Maybe a National March Against Racism or removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol dome are not the answer to solving our racial difference. But they do draw public awareness to community outrage over the growing attitude of hate. Our voices a racial harmony may not silence the vicious words of the Klan, but they can drown them out. By organizing and vocalizing we can counter-act the race-based rhetoric that is finding new voices and recruiting new soldiers. Our actions of unity will speak louder than their words of hate.

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