My prayer today is that all the hoopla and hotheads will settle down so that we can do the real work of forging what our Constitution dares us to do: “Form a more perfect union.” My great-grandfather, Daniel Byrd McClendon, was a Confederate soldier who never owned a slave but suffered greatly in the Civil War. In a sense, it is fitting that it was July 9, 1864, 151 years ago today, that he was shot in the back of the head during the Battle of Monocacy outside of Frederick, Maryland. He was captured, treated for months in two different Union hospitals, and then imprisoned for the remainder of the war. He survived, just barely. The question for me in the aftermath of this day’s historic events is whether we will survive and move forward as a people. I think the answer is the same as it was for my great-grandfather 150 years ago: “Yes.”
I am so glad that on the anniversary of his valor, the people of South Carolina have exhibited grace when under fire once again. No matter your heritage or politics, this was the right thing to do. I can’t think of a better tribute to my great-grandfather and to each person of every race who has borne the brunt of hardship so that future generations will remember that freedom is never without a price. With tears in my eyes, this is a holy day of remembrance for slave and free, Americans all. There is no room for whooping and hollering with glee. This is too special for that, too sacred. This is not just Charleston Strong. This is South Carolina Strong. We will move forward.
Therefore, I have mixed emotions today with the painfully magnificent realization that 9 martyrs did not die in vain, while, at the same time, a flag that has taunted so many can still get its due in a museum. A flag is a symbol, and this banner has meant many things to many people, good and bad. We need to remember that, if we’re going to get along, we must do so in the way that Lincoln suggested near the end of the Civil War. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln said that the Union could be reborn, “With malice towards none…” We must heed his advice, therefore, bind up our common wounds and live life in genuine grace-filled community.
In 1913, on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a throng of nearly 54,000 Union and Confederate veterans descended once again on the tiny hamlet in southern Pennsylvania. This time, the men of Pickett’s charge didn’t find themselves greeted by deadly blasts of cannon and grapeshot that decimated their ranks. Instead, as the Southern veterans let out their rebel yell, the Union soldiers left their positions behind the stone walls and met their former enemies on the slope below. They embraced with outstretched arms and old foes shed tears of relief and reunion. They had survived and so had their country.
The next day, July 4, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson described the healing of the nation’s wounds, and I’m sure the sight from the previous day moved him: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”
On this hallowed day in South Carolina history, may we not flaunt our winning or losing with either hubris or bitterness. Let’s do our ancestors and our recent dead proud by hugging each other, reaching across barriers of race and culture, and saying today that we will dedicate ourselves anew to a future that embraces an indigo blue and every other hue. Splendid valor will not be forgotten. This indeed is South Carolina Strong.