Commentary: Moving past South Carolina's secessionist past

The State (Columbia, S.C.)December 23, 2010 

While it should be crystal clear to anyone who would read the secession delegates’ official explanation for their actions with an honest eye that slavery was the only reason South Carolina parted ways with the United States in 1860, it’s also quite clear that our state’s way forward isn’t by spending an inordinate amount of time, money or resources looking backward, especially if the intent is to celebrate.

What’s there to celebrate? Certainly not this state’s obvious desire to continue slavery or the resulting Civil War or the more than 600,000 who died. We should commemorate and even mourn the devastating loss of lives and recognize the righteous emancipation of slaves. Many educational and enlightening discussions can and should be had.

But it’s paramount that we not use this four-year commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War simply to rehash this country’s most tragic war but instead to offer a mature, reasonable 21st century response. Many of the ills that consume our state today have their roots in the Civil War. Instead of simply revisiting that awful war, let’s turn our collective focus to trying to undo the damage that slavery, secession and the war wreaked on this state.

Ensuring that our children graduate high school and are ready to go to work or college didn’t just now become a challenge in South Carolina. Our rural areas didn’t just plunge into despair because of the current economic slump — or even because busy boll weevils devastated cotton crops in the 1920s.

Prior to 1860, South Carolina — bolstered by the ill-gotten gain from the institution of slavery — was the richest state in the nation. Slaves themselves constituted wealth, and slaves gave the land its value. It stands to reason that when they were emancipated, the state would fall into poverty.

Ever since, this state has struggled to regain its footing. It has yet to find a way to bring all its people together to pull in the same direction — toward prosperity. There is prosperity in spots, but it’s more than counter-balanced by sprawling pockets of deep poverty and need.

To read the complete column, visit www.thestate.com.

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