Downing of a Flag: How South Carolina Took It Down

Downing of a Flag. Courtesy of SCETV/PBS.

Downing of a Flag explores the history of the Confederate flag and the removal from the South Carolina Capitol grounds in 2015.

Depending on who you speak with, the Confederate flag means one of two things. It either represents racism or Southern heritage. The sight of the flag certainly brings about strong feelings on both sides. Downing of a Flag explores both points of view but ultimately, this film is about how the flag came down following the racist shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It’s about the history of South Carolina and the South. The doc is also about how the flag would represent the state in an overall national conversation.

The flag first went up in observance of the 1861 centennial of the Civil War. What was expected to be temporary ended up lasting just over fifty years. Despite complaints and legislation, nothing ever came to a vote. There had been a compromise vote taken in 2000. Unfortunately, this vote still kept the flag on the grounds while removing it from the Capitol dome. There is no reason why it took the death of State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight Black parishioners to be the catalyst for change. It should have happened a long time ago.

In as much as this documentary is a history of the flag, it is also a history of the South in general. The South would go onto adopt the Lost Cause, which rewrites the history of the Civil War. We all know that the Civil War happened because of slavery. And yet, the Lost Cause buys into this belief that it was about States’ Rights. If you want to know why there are so many Confederate statues, look no further than the Lost Cause. Streets, buildings, statues, you name it.

But anyway, the South was devastated as a result of the war. A state like Mississippi went onto struggle because their pre-1860 economy was largely built on the backs of slaves. While racism existed after the Civil War, it went from bad to extremely bad following Reconstruction. It’s under the backdrop of the flag’s meaning that led to the deaths of the Emanuel 9. I will not name the murderer because they don’t deserve that kind of infamy.

But in terms of South Carolina, the state has a strong history when it comes to the Confederacy. You don’t have to look far to find monuments to soldiers and whatnot. The statue may no longer be up but South Carolina is synonymous with former Senator/Vice President John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was considered an American statesmen for his era. He joined forces with Senators Henry Clay (KY) and Daniel Webster (NH/MA) to form the Great Triumvirate in the Senate. They were the dominant force of American politics for the first half of the 19th century and with the Great Compromise of 1850, they postponed the Civil War by ten years. Calhoun may have had a legacy in South Carolina but his pro-slavery views do not hold up today.

Add the Orangeburg Massacre to the list of events that we didn’t learn about in history classes. Everyone knows about the Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970–four killed and nine wounded. Jackson State would follow days later. The Orangeburg massacre took place two years earlier on the South Carolina State campus. Three students died and another 28 were injured when some 200 protesters gathered to demonstrate against racial segregation at the local bowling alley. America can and should do better when it comes to teaching our nation’s history. There is zero reason for why we are not learning about these events.

And yet, when we think of South Carolina, we mostly think of ether Calhoun, the flag, or their role in the Civil War. The flag itself is divisive and brings out strong views on both sides. This just goes without saying. What is truly absurd is that following the 2015 shooting, flag sales increased ten-fold. WHY?!? There are people that say removing the flag dishonors their ancestors who fought for the South. It’s just mind-boggling. We’re talking about a war over slavery. And so when push comes to shove, this is a flag that really just represents racism and white supremacy. No more, no less.

If you’ve been following the nationwide conversation about removing Confederate statues, two-part documentary Downing of a Flag serves as complementary viewing. A number of politicians offer their thoughts on the matter. Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley only appears during archival footage. It would certainly be interesting to get her thoughts on camera. Among the prominent interview subjects are U.S. Congressman James Clyburn and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young.

DIRECTOR: Scott Galloway
FEATURING: Andrew Young, James Clyburn, David Beasley, Jim Hodges, Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Maggie Glover, Jenny Horne, Gerald Malloy, Kay Patterson, Todd Rutherford, Vincent Sheheen, Jennifer Pinckney, Kathleen Parker, Jennifer Berry Howes, Bakari Sellers, Bree Newsome Bass, Maurice Hobson, Jerry Mitchell, Michael Green, Ben Jones, Larry McCluney Jr.

Downing of a Flag airs nationwide on PBS starting on July 12, 2021. Check your local PBS affiliate listings for details.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.