- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2000

I can't go to Charleston or Hilton Head this year for vacation. I can't go to Myrtle Beach, either. Nor can I visit Oyotunji, the African retreat outside Beaufort, or the Penn Center, a historic retreat and landmark where Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders held strategy sessions under breeze-blown poplars.
In fact, I better not show my touristy face anywhere in South Carolina for fear of the police.
Not the South Carolina police, mind you. The civil rights "police."
The civil rights police and they are everywhere these days are the folks who take great offense at someone else's symbols. For example, their complaint du jour is the Confederate flag. It is distasteful, they say. It pays homage to slavery, they say. It must come down, they say.
Now, between you and me, I don't give a flying flag anymore thought than I do, say, the Ku Klux Klan. Each is supposed to stand for something, but to me they are mere symbols of wishful thinking.
The Klan wishes America were one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all white Americans. But it is not. And Klansmen cannot, no matter how hard they try, make it so.
Same with the Rebel flag. It may appear to symbolize segregation, Jim Crow, slavery and all those other immoral indignities. It does not.
The Confederate flag is a piece of cloth with red, white and blue designs that used to stand for something, and that something, the Confederacy, exists no more. There are sons and daughters of the Confederacy, and there are memorials and proclamations honoring the Confederacy. There are all manner of things representing the Confederacy, but the Confederacy itself is history.
And in case you have forgotten, slavery, as America knew it, no longer exists. Hey, even Hilton Head, as America knew it, no longer exists.
I wish my paternal grandfather could see the South Carolina of today. I wish he could enjoy long perches on the front porch, spittoon nearby, and peaches ripe for picking. I wish he could stroll into Charleston, head held high, and see black folks right alongside white folks.
My grandfather, whom everyone called either "Papa" or "Mr. Simmons," was born in 1910 in Lane, S.C., not far from Charleston. He became a farmer, as lots of folks there did. Rice fields, peach farms and cotton and tobacco plantations were all over those parts of the Carolinas. Nearer the coast, blacks farmed rice for white folks.
For many of them, the agricultural transition was easy enough; their ancestors had farmed along the western shores of Africa, and rice was a staple there, too. Today, their African and American descendants still use the grass to weave baskets.
Our family began learning much of this rich and engaging history because we visited South Carolina. I remember, during our first trek to those parts, for a week in Charleston in 1989, driving along night-darkened, winding roads and being afraid to look into the woods, fearful of seeing, or imagining, strange fruit hanging alongside the myrtle and Spanish moss. While neither my mind nor my eyes betrayed me, I felt, well, sort of unwelcome.
Anyway, we spent three days on the Sea Islands, toured Charleston's market square, and I fell in love with those glorious homes. Mm, mm, mm.
Several years later, while planning a joint family reunion with my dad's and mother's families (some of whom were from the islands off the coast of Georgia), we settled on Myrtle Beach. During dinner on our last night there, the elders discussed family history, then the baby boomers did their thing, and the younger generation fast-forwarded the baton to the future.
But the civil rights police have put up roadblocks. So, instead of planning a vacation to South Carolina, I sit at a computer, where, on occasion, I can take a virtual vacation via the Internet and Microsoft's Encarta Africana.
Oh, how I yearn to consort with the spirits of my ancestors and other true civil rights leaders, and my eyes yearn to see everything eastern South Carolina has to offer. Vacationers probably can get a good deal right about now.
I am urged not to go, though, because black folks are complaining about a meaningless flag that flies on top of a building that black folks toiled to build.
Mercy, mercy, mercy.
Deborah Simmons is an editorial writer for The Washington Times. She can be reached by e-mail (simmon@twtmail.com).

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