Above, watch the full session of the panel featuring Liberty Fellows responding to the recent Charleston shooting.
While the country heals after the recent shooting of nine African Americans holding Bible study in a South Carolina church, the wounds are still fresh for Charleston natives. At the 2015 Aspen Action Forum, four Liberty Fellows shared how they are moving past the pain and collaborating across racial, geographic, and political lines in all corners of the state to influence and implement change.
After Sheheen heard the news that South Carolina State Senator and Rev. Clementa Pinckey — his seatmate in the Senate — was one of the nine killed in a shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Sheheen and the other senators “…got together and said, ‘how do we handle this?'” Sheheen said. “We decided the best way we could handle it would not be to not go into session, or walk away, or give this murderer any more feeling of empowerment that he had, but to go into session and talk about the life of Clem Pinckey, and that’s what we did.”
‘Confederate flag had a very different meaning to me’
Soon after the shooting, protesters in South Carolina and throughout the country demanded the Confederate flag be taken down. Liberty Fellow and South Carolina Community Loan Fund Executive Director Michelle Mapp explained what she sees when she sees the flag.
“We don’t have these conversations, we don’t talk about race a lot, and I think that it was important for me to help people understand that I didn’t see the flag as heritage. When I see the history books, when I see a lynching… when I see this flag flying in the background, that had a very different meaning to me, and that if we were going to be united as one, and we were having this very public demonstration of unity, that it needed to be real.”
Taking Down the Confederate Flag
While efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the state’s capitol have been underway for years, the time was ripe to renew the conversation after the tragic shooting. “It was important that we use this moment for any good that could come out of it,” Sheheen said.
“We [Liberty Fellows and others] that Thursday afternoon and Friday, began to develop a very specific strategy to lower the Confederate battle flag… It was very difficult to do that in the aftermath of this, because really, those of us who knew these peoeple — and we all knew them — we didnt want to go do interviews and go to rallies. We wanted to shut the door and cry.”
Cox Industries President and CEO and Liberty Fellow Mikee Johnson explained how through an email chain with dozens of Liberty Fellows, the group began to campaign to bring the flag down. “We might not be ready for this random act, but we can be in position when it happens to have a group to work together,” Johnson said.
‘This didn’t hit close to home, it hit home’
For Liberty Fellow and Deputy General Counsel for the White House Office of Management and Budget John Simpkins, the shooting was not just another headline in the news. “This didn’t hit close to home, it hit home,” he said, noting that he’s known Pinckey since they were in high school.
As far as the Confederate flag coming down, Simpkins acknowledged that despite everyone’s best efforts, including rallying local businesses to support their cause, “Nothing was going to happen with the flag until white people in South Carolina decided that the flag was going to come down.”
“Let’s be very clear, bringing the flag down is not the end, that’s removal of a symbol,” Simpkins said. “Strategically thinking about the next steps, we need to begin the process of healing the state, and that’s bringing people together, not trying to polarize different groups.”