Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
July 9, 2015

The Last Chapter of S. Carolina's Confederate Flag Debate

Tim Scott Anderson

It’s over. In the early hours of the morning, the S. Carolina House passed a bill to forever banish the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds. These photos stood out to me as being particularly symbolic in still another historic week for human rights.

This first picture is the only one not directly related to the legislature itself. And it spoke to me as much for the photo editing. The picture accompanies a NYT feature this week on the (U.S.) Senate’s only black GOP member, conservative hardliner, Tim Scott. The story (“Senator Tim Scott Finds His Voice, and Others’ Ears, After Charleston Church Attack”) deals with the effect that the racist massacre in his home state has had on him. Apparently an imbued Scott, defying his MO as a divisive ideologue, has been showing glimpses lately of bridging left and right, black and white.

What drew me to the photo, however, is how, beyond the immediate situation, it might relate to Scott’s moderation at a more intuitive level. All the photo shows is Scott frozen in the middle of an emphatic gesture. What the photo editor might also have been tapping into, however, is how much the pose also parallels the now famous “don’t shoot” gesture most connected with Ferguson and #blacklivesmatter.

Forward Dove Confederate

South carolina confederate flag reverse

Tuesday and Wednesday saw a lot of coverage of the scene outside the State House concurrent with the State Senate debate. Between the two, the first photo is the one that seemed to circulate more widely. In any case, it was the one that appeared on Tuesday’s NY Times front page with this article.

A photographer friend sent me a clip of this picture with the comment:

It’s an interesting image of two sides of a discussion and more importantly how they are dressed. Double standards, no?

Did he mean that the whites come off looking more like rednecks given how nattily dressed the black men are? Or, that the African-Americans have to be that much more pulled together to merit sufficient respect in our visual culture? I have to confess, by the way, I automatically assumed the guy in the suit must have been one of the State Senators. Checking it out, though, the man, Brodrick S. Hall from Atlanta, was just another citizen. And talking politics and threads, perhaps the tie was loud enough, given the company, to be disarming.

I’m sure you have many more thoughts on the scene, and the angles. What I found myself most wanting to think, though, was that, at least they’re talking.

Confederate Flag Debate Roll of Dead

Given Rebels don’t take kindly to losses, I found these indelible images of the vanquished. The photo from Wednesday, above, of the State Senator, and yesterday’s shot below, of the State Congressman, inside the Capitol captures the ongoing resistance of the Old South. In the case of Sen. Bright, lofting a copy of the Confederate “Roll Call of the Dead,” I was wondering about the words in the title. Cataloging the names of the fallen, it could as well have started out with the word “Role,” to indicate how they were pressed into duty again.

S Carolina flag surrender

What is so thoroughly fitting about Rep. Corley’s demonstration is how it also signals no budge. His waving the white paper flag, I sense, is only superficially about surrender. More so (Confederacy, forever), it’s a visual act of defiance and martyrdom saying that you’ve done it to us again.

(photo 1: Mike Belleme for The New York Times caption: Senator Tim Scott with supporters at a town hall-style meeting in Anderson, S.C., on Monday.photo 2: Travis Dove for The New York Times. caption: From left, Randy Saxon, Brodrick S. Hall and Wayne Whitfield discussing the flag at the South Carolina State House on Monday. photo 3: Meg Kinnard / AP caption: Randy Saxon, left and Wayne Whitfield, both of Anderson, S.C., discuss the Confederate flag on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds with Brodrick S. Hall of Atlanta, right, on Monday, July 6, 2015. photo 4: Tim Dominick/The State via AP caption: Sen. Lee Bright R-Spartanburg holds the “Roll Call of the Dead” while making his case not to take down the flag during the South Carolina senate’s debate on a bill that calls for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Monday, July 6, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. The South Carolina Senate voted Monday to remove the Confederate flag from a pole on the Statehouse grounds, though the proposal still needs approval from the state House and the governor. photo 5: John Bazemore/AP caption: Rep. Christopher Corley, R- Aiken, shows his frustration by waving a white flag of surrender during debate over a Senate bill calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the Capitol grounds Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. The House is under pressure to act after the state Senate passed its own measure, which is supported by Gov. Nikki Haley. But some Republicans proposed changes to the Senate bill that would preserve some kind of symbol in front of the Statehouse to honor their Southern ancestors.)

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