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McConnell And Tillman - Two Men Loving The Same Past
4/2/2014 3:51:04 PM

By Barney Blakeney

I ran into a friend the other day at the post office. Will Moredock and I got to know each other when we both wrote for another local weekly newspaper. I thought Moredock not only was one of the best writers for the paper, but also one of its most progressive.

Moredock is old school. We’re about the same age - three score and waitin’ on 10. We were pretty much the senior citizens in the bunch at that paper. Everybody else were a bunch of kids. I learned that age ain’t got nothing to do with being progressive. If you’re taught old ways and get stuck in them, you can’t be progressive. There are a lot of young people stuck in some old ways.

At the College of Charleston some of those young people are trying to break out of some old ways through their protests of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s selection as the institution’s next president. They say McConnell’s love for Confederate History is not a move toward a progressive future.

I’m disappointed that more students, especially Black students, aren’t taking a more visible role in the protests. There are some 12,000 students enrolled at the College of Charleston, some 700 are Black. Only about 200 or so have been participating in the protests.

Personally, I’m not moved one way or another by McConnell’s selection as president. I know that the Confederacy was about enslaving my ancestors and I assume anyone who loves that past, also must love enslaving people. However, I can’t say that’s where McConnell’s head is.

A lot of Black folks like the man. I’ve been getting calls from some Black folks I really respect saying McConnell isn’t a racist and has advocated for greater inclusion/diversity when it comes to Black folks. All that’s cool. But again, anyone who loves the Confederacy must also love the enslavement of my people.

No matter how one feels about McConnell’s Confederate leaning, I think the kids at the College of Charleston have hit on something about the selection process. McConnell’s selection seems surely to indicate that the good ole boy system remains solidly intact.

Most folks I know felt McConnell’s announcement that he wanted the job was a declaration of his selection. Though there’s been no public confirmation, it’s probably fair to assume McConnell was not among the finalists recommended by the search team our tax dollars paid $100,000 to do the job. Students at the College of Charleston are being progressive in asking what the hell happened. The greater community should join them.

My brother, Ellis Mack, used to say everybody’s got an agenda. I’m sure the selection committee has a reason for selecting McConnell. They need to tell us what that reason is.

They chose McConnell because they obviously feel he can help meet their agenda. So what is the agenda? Is it fundraising, merging with the Medical University of South Carolina? What? I don’t think the primary agenda is increasing racial diversity. That’s not an agenda for any institution in South Carolina.

After speaking with Moredock the other day, I asked myself what we should expect from a McConnell administration. You see, a few months ago Moredock wrote a column about dismantling the statue of Benjamin ‘Pitchfork Ben” Tillman at the S.C. Statehouse.

Pitchfork Ben was a governor and U.S. Senator from South Carolina born in Edgefield County back in 1847. Tillman was a mean man who also loved what the Confederacy sought to preserve.

Pitchfork Ben couldn’t fight in the Confederate Army because of some earlier injury, but he fought negros all his life. After the Civil War he led Edgefield County’s Red Shirts, a statewide organization of vigilante white men who terrorized, lynched and murdered Black folks.

The Red Shirts were brutal terrorists who violently ended Reconstruction in the state. In a July 1876 encounter a Black state malitia unit was surrounded by a superior force of Red Shirts, several were executed. Five days later several Red Shirt gangs slaughtered over 100 Blacks.

Tillman later said the violence may seem ruthless, but it involved everything they held dear. He’s quoted having said, “We stuffed ballot boxes, we shot them. We are not ashamed of it.”

I imagine Glenn McConnell is a very different man from Pitchfork Ben Tillman though they each love and revere the same past. It doesn’t speak well that McConnell’s ascent to the presidency was achieved much the same as Tillman’s ascent to power - through a tainted process.

I wonder what we should expect from McConnell’s administration.

Visitor Comments
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Submitted By: Lee Submitted: 4/2/2014
I appreciate the history you brought into your article. I recently read an old pamphlet written about a hundred years describing the way the Red Shirts intimidated and attacked blacks to keep them from voting. The author was basically bragging about what he and the other Red Shirts had done. I'm white and a native Charlestonian, but reading true accounts like that took away my respect for the Confederate flag and ante-bellum nostalgia. I don't know how someone like McConnell can't see how brutal and ruthless the South was back then. It's hard to tolerate his stance on the Confederacy because it is against all the facts.

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