Part 4—And says a magic word: Who was Clementa Pinckney?
According to this New York Times profile, his mother named him for Roberto Clemente, who had just died bringing supplies to survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
It seems the concept of service stuck. Later in the profile, Kevin Sack describes the essence of Rev. Pinckney, as seen by his “relatives, colleagues and parishioners:”
SACK (6/26/15): Many cite his disarming humility. Despite his rapid rise, searing intellect and oratorical gifts, he never conveyed superiority or belittled opponents, they said. He managed to empathize with those who disagreed with him, while also firmly presenting his own views.“Mr. Pinckney seemed unconcerned with self-promotion,” Sack writes. “[A]lthough firmly grounded in the A.M.E. church’s activist tradition he chose to work within the system, seeing himself more as a persuader than a firebrand.”
A towering presence at over six feet tall, he spoke extemporaneously in a resonant baritone, but rarely raised the volume. If he had a failing, several colleagues said, it was that he could be too gentle with adversaries who deserved harsher treatment.
“The most irritating thing about Senator Pinckney,” said State Representative William K. Bowers, a Democrat from his district, “is that when you had a debate he would just come over and pat you on the back and say, ‘Maybe tomorrow you’ll be thinking right.’ He was full of love and full of respect.”
Who produces greater societal change—the persuaders or the firebrands?
There’s no reason why we can’t have both, of course. Last night, Professor Butler presented himself as one of the latter in an interview with Chris Hayes.
We speak this time of Professor Paul Butler, who made a fiery comment this week to a caller on NPR. We were especially struck last night when he made this slightly odd statement:
BUTLER (6/25/15): And it goes to a larger issue that—when black people talk to white people about white supremacy, we’re supposed to be loving and forgiving. The problem is, love and forgiveness are not productive in American politics. That’s not how social change is achieved. You know, you could do it through organizing, you could do it through electoral politics, you could take it to the streets. But being nice in the face of white supremacy does not advance racial justice.Professor Butler continued the pushback we have described in the past two days. In this rolling movement, northern “intellectual leaders” have been rebuking those silly low-country blacks for their silly, unproductive “love and forgiveness” approach.
Professor Butler’s interview with Hayes was fascinating. We expect to review it in some detail next week. That said, following the century of Gandhi, Dr. King and Mandela, we were struck by his assessment of what works in pursuit of societal change.
Can we talk, perhaps unkindly? Northern and Yankee “intellectuals” have been schooling the love-and-forgiveness southern contingent all week. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Rachel Maddow struck us as especially condescending toward Reverend Pinckney’s family. But then, what is else is new?
We expect to discuss these topics next week. For today, let’s continue discussing the Reverend Pinckney, who was murdered last week.
First, an obvious statement:
It goes without saying that Reverend Pinckney wasn’t as great, as brilliant or as insightful as we progressives Up Here. Despite that fact, we’ve been struck, in profiles and interviews, by the way he seems to have affected his colleagues down South.
This Monday, in the wake of his death, the nation saw a rare display of red and blue together. Governor Haley stood on a stage and said the Confederate flag must come down. Red and blue were standing there with her—as were black, white and brown.
In our world, this rarely occurs. There’s a positive back-story here.
As we’ve noted in the past, South Carolina Republicans deserve a lot of credit for certain parts of their recent behavior. At present, for example, they’re sending as many blacks to the United States Senate as all our blue states combined!
We wouldn’t vote for Tim Scott ourselves; we don’t share his politics. But we think it’s a very good thing that so many white Republicans in South Carolina were willing and able to vote for Scott along the way, given their wide range of choices.
We think it’s a sign of moral progress; we think liberals should be glad to see this improvement occur. Indeed, the progress reaches the level of comedy when we consider the circumstance under which Scott was first elected to the House of Representatives back in 2010.
White voters had an almost comical range of choices. Despite that fact, they decided to vote for Scott:
WIKIPEDIA: Scott ranked first in the nine-candidate Republican primary of June 8, 2010, receiving a plurality of 32% of the vote. Fellow Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond, son of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, ranked second with 16% of the vote. Carroll A. Campbell III, the son of former Governor Carroll A. Campbell, Jr., ranked third with 14% of the vote...White Republicans voted for Scott over the son of Strom Thurmond! Also, over Carroll Campbell III, another giant name in South Carolina politics.
Because no candidate had received 50 percent or more of the vote, a runoff was held on June 22, 2010. Scott faced off against Paul Thurmond. Scott was endorsed by fiscally conservative Club for Growth, various Tea Party movement groups, former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, Republican House Whip Eric Cantor, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, and the founder of the Minuteman Project. Scott defeated Thurmond 68%-32% and won every county in the congressional district.
Surely, the gods on Olympus created these events to help us Yankees notice the fcat that something was happening Down There. Congenitally, we can’t seem to make ourselves do it.
Just for the record, that same Paul Thurmond made one of the most insightful statements regarding the flag this week. We think liberals should be pleased by, and respectful of, these and other events.
Unfortunately, we liberals don’t tend to function that way. Instinctively, we tend to function like small-minded tribal players. That keeps us from seeing the way people in South Carolina have perhaps been conspiring of late to let the glory out.
When Governor Haley spoke from that stage, we had an instant reaction. We wished she was playing on our team, we incomparably said.
Good God! Haley is a first generation American—and not only that, she’s a woman! In 1972, she was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, the daughter of an Indian Sikh family which had immigrated to South Carolina.
At the age of 38, she was elected governor of the state! By white Republican voters!
We wouldn’t vote for Haley ourselves; we don’t share her overall politics. But when white Republican voters did, we’re going to say they were letting a bit of the glory out!
What is permitting this state’s Republican voters to move beyond “whites only” traditions? On Monday night, we were struck by something a Republican state senator said about reverence Pinckney.
Chris Hayes spoke with Tom Davis, a Republican member of the South Carolina state senate. Davis had called for the flag to come down before Haley spoke that day.
What was the basis for his decision? We were struck by something Davis said:
DAVIS (6/22/15): The fact is, [the Confederate flag] is perceived by many to be a symbol of hate. And trying to do what Senator Pinckney always admonished me to do was to put myself in somebody else’s shoes and to see things through their eyes. And after he was murdered on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and then this weekend talking with my wife, I tried to imagine what it must be like to be a black South Carolinian that comes to the State House, their State House as much as it is mine, and as much as it is anybody else’s in South Carolina, and to see that symbol that causes so much pain.Every good liberal knows how to tear such statements to shreds. We’re well-schooled in our tribal loathing. We all know how to recite.
That said, we were struck by the mixed metaphor in which, Davis said, Reverend Pinckney had always urged him “to put myself in somebody else’s shoes and to see things through their eyes.”
The first part of that metaphor comes straight from To Kill a Mockingbird. In the famous novel, two children come to understand that their neighbor, Boo Radley, is an actual person.
But alas! In the novel’s second strand, their community’s white adults can’t achieve that same understanding concerning Tom Robinson, a falsely accused black person.
Davis described himself moving past that traditional failure. In our view, he was describing a very good turn in the weather. Right there on a TV show, he said he was able to make the turn because of the instruction he took from Pinckney, a colleague and friend he admired.
Every good liberal knows how to denigrate Davis for not achieving this moral turn sooner—for not being as morally brilliant as we all are Up Here. This strikes us as a limiting move, if it’s more progress you’re after.
Within the history of the human race, Senator Davis was describing a radical act—the act of learning to see the world through the eyes of people defined as The Other. Earlier that night, on that same show, James Clyburn absent-mindedly seemed to do the same thing!
Rep. Clyburn is an honored veteran of the civil rights movement. When South Carolina operated under a strict, unyielding racial regime, he was placed on the “black” side of this unyielding division.
On Monday, Clyburn stood on the stage as Governor Haley said the flag should come down. He was part of the red and blue mix that, to us, looked like a very good thing.
We were struck by something he said to Hayes this night. First, he described his interactions with Governor Haley:
CLYBURN (6/22/15): Last Thursday at Morris Brown AME Church, at the service, the governor and I spoke. And during our embrace, she said to me, “We just got to do something. We got to have a proper response to this.”To watch the whole segment, click here.
So I had no idea she was talking about the flag at the time. I saw her later that afternoon, and it just seemed to me that she was getting to a good place on something. But I didn’t know until yesterday that—that the flag was something that was eating away at her.
And so when I talked to her earlier today, she told me what she was going to do and asked would I stand with her when she did. And so I did.
Clyburn casually described an “embrace” which at one time couldn’t have happened. He seemed to accept the idea that Governor Haley, a person he knows, was sincere in her stance on the flag.
For ourselves, we have no way of knowing who’s sincere about what. But in the next Q-and-A, we were struck by a word Clyburn said.
To us, his overall point seems a tiny bit daft. But in the passage we’ve highlighted, he used a magic word:
HAYES (continuing directly): You know, there are obviously there are folks who are celebrating this and welcome it. There are others who are sort of saying, “Well, this was done in the face of a kind of crescendo of public outrage and the initial instinct of both Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Lindsey Graham were, if not to outright defend the flag, kind of hem and haw on it.”Clyburn’s overall point strikes us as rather tortured. But we couldn’t help noting his use of the magic word—“we.”
How do you understand this decision? As one of conviction, or kind of following the momentum of where things were headed anyway?
CLYBURN: Well, you know, I understand politics. And I know the difference in the Republican voters’ psyche about the flag and Democratic voters’ psyche. I would say generally two-thirds of Democratic voters have got problems with the flag flying on the State House grounds. About two-thirds of Republican voters want it to fly on the State House grounds.
But you know, when I talk to even Republican voters, and I point out to them that they have been misled for years about this flag, a lot of them say to me, “I never heard that before.”
Most people don’t know that that flag that’s sitting in front of the State House right now, that is a northern—that is the battle flag of northern Virginia. That was a flag that Robert E. Lee fought under. But when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, he asked all of his followers to furl the flag. And as you know, six months after the war, he applied for citizenship to come back into the United States of America.
And so people who celebrate that flag, South Carolinians, they just don’t know.
South Carolinians didn’t fight under that flag. For the most part, we fought under the flag of the Citadel and other regimental flags. So South Carolinians have been celebrating a myth. And so when I point this out to people—there was one lady who called me and said, “I checked on it and you were right.”
“We” fought under the flag of the Citadel, Rep. Clyburn said. He didn’t seem to give his construction a thought.
Every good northern liberal will know how to scold him for this. For ourselves, we were glad to see him say what he did.
By all accounts, Clementa Pinckney’s colleagues greatly admired him, on both sides of the aisle. By many accounts, people all over the country have greatly admired the Charleston families’ “love and forgiveness” in reaction to last week’s murders.
Forgive us for suggesting this, but those families seem perhaps to be walking the walk Dr. King once walked. Next week, we’ll examine the ways we in the north always seem to know so much more than these southern rubes.
For ourselves, we think we’ve seen moral improvement occurring in South Carolina. We’ve seen it on the TV machine. We’ve sometimes possibly even seen it in person.
Who’s more productive—the lovers and forgivers or the firebrands? In principle, we could have both, of course.
We’ll puzzle this out next week. We thought Professor Butler’s statement last night was familiar but somewhat odd.
Next post: Who was Ethel Lance?