By JOHN McCARTHY/Virgin Islands Free Press


There’s no denying it.

South Carolina has a violent and racist past, with some tolerance mixed in.

The mere name “South Carolina” – suggests that it broke away from a larger Carolina – and that would be true.

The name Carolina is Latin for “Charles land” and goes back to 1629 when Britain’s King Charles I gave eight wealthy English aristocrats (mostly migrating from their sugar cane plantations in Barbados) a royal charter to settle Carolina because they had helped him regain his throne.

The Carolina coast was originally founded by the Spanish, but they were forced to leave due to violence from Native Americans and a lack of provisions. From the beginning of colonization, blacks outnumbered whites in South Carolina and that would remain so up until the turn of the 20th century.

Carolina originally split in 1719, when southern settlers seized control from its proprietors. In 1729, Carolina became two royal colonies, North and South Carolina.

Farmers from inland Virginia grew tobacco in North Carolina, while the fertility of the low country and its natural harbors, such as in Charles Town, later Charleston, allowed South Carolina to prosper.

Slaves were imported from the rice-growing regions of Africa, who created the dams and canals used to irrigate rice and indigo as commodity crops. South Carolina tolerated religious freedom and allowed French Huguenot and Sephardic Jewish communities from London to be merchants in the growing economy.

The Stono Rebellion of 1739, resulted in the colony no longer allowing African slaves to be imported through Charleston for ten years, as they believed the less-seasoned slaves to be more likely to seed rebellions than the Caribbean slaves who had grown up on plantations.

Although its name comes from an English king, South Carolina became the first republic in America when it adopted its own constitution on March 26, 1776. It was also the first state to adopt the Articles of Confederation, the initial governing document of the United States.

In 1822, following discovery of a conspiracy for a slave rebellion led by freed slave Denmark Vesey, the state passed the Negro Seaman Act, which prohibited foreign and northern black sailors from interacting with people in South Carolina ports. As the act violated international treaties, it was declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court Justice William Johnson. But Johnson’s ruling was not enforced.

South Carolina responded by passing the Ordinance of Nullification in 1832, declaring unconstitutional and null the federal tariff laws of 1828 and 1832, and prescribing that those laws would not be enforced in the state after February 1, 1833.

The seventh U.S. President Andrew Jackson, a native of the Waxhaws border region between the Carolinas, ended the crisis through the Force Bill that allowed the federal government to use military force to enforce federal law in South Carolina. It is considered the first law of the land ever to deny individual states the right to secede.

Which brings us to last night and 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof of nearby Lexington, South Carolina who is accused of killing nine people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston – a church Vesey helped found and which was burned to the ground by white supremacists in 1822 – the same year he and 34 other black men were hanged after being found guilty of the alleged slave revolt plot in a secret trial.

Asked by co-host of Democracy Now! on PBS, Nermeen Shaikh if there has been any precedent “for this kind of violence” in South Carolina, Dr. Lonnie Randolph, Jr. said: “yes.”

“Unfortunately the answer is yes,” Randolph said. “And we don’t have a history of being a leader in this country on human rights. And unfortunately it brings us to reality … a reminder of the way South Carolina got to be South Carolina, the things that South Carolina has done throughout history.”

Randolph then referenced when Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) entered the U.S. Senate chamber in 1856 and used his gold-tipped cane to beat Sen. Charles Sumner (R-MA) nearly to death for his abolitionist views. Following the beating, in which Sumner lived after sustaining a brain injury, Brooks was forced to resign his seat, but returned home to South Carolina for a hero’s welcome.

Everyone knows that the Civil War (officially called by the federal government “The War Between The States”) began when Confederate batteries began shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861, but how many remember 620,000 Americans died for that South Carolina-driven, eight-year experiment in sovereign limbo?

You would have to be a student in Civil War-era flags to know that the current South Carolina flag is an updated blue and white crescent and palm tree version of the Sovereignty-Secession flag from the Confederacy of States of America.

Now that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has announced his intentions to be the second POTUS from South Carolina and the first bachelor in the White House since James Buchanan in 1857, how would he explain in a debate why South Carolina still allows the “Stars and Bars” to fly in front of its statehouse?

As a follow-up, someone might ask Graham why the United States flag and the South Carolina flag atop the statehouse flew at half mast today, but the Confederate flag in front of the building on a Civil War monument flew at full mast?

The symbolism is important, unless you forget your history.

















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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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