Citizens Clyde Wilson is simply wrong when he writes that "the Council of Conservative Citizens was not responsible for saving our flag" and that the Council's "efforts, including rallies by tattooed motorcycle thugs and David Duke followers, have been resoundingly counterproductive—just what the media wanted" ("Letter From South Carolina," Correspondence, January).
In the first place, the political controversy involving the Confederate flag that flies over the South Carolina state capitol began in 1994, when grassroots support for keeping the flag was mobilized by the CofCC's South Carolina chapter and its chairman, Dr. Bill Carter. The CofCC was the only organized group in the state involved in defending the flag at a time when most observers believed it would be removed from the capitol. It wasn't—almost entirely because of the efforts of the Council and Dr. Carter.
Since that time, other Southern heritage groups have become involved in defending the flag, though the CofCC continues to play a leading role in its defense. In 1996, we sponsored a mass rally that displayed the world's largest Confederate flag and attracted both wide popular support and major media attention. Last October, the Council organized another mass rally at the capitol that attracted some 500 flag supporters. David Duke did speak to an audience after our rally was finished, and presumably many of his followers were also in our audience. But Mr. Duke is not a member of the Council and did not speak at the CofCC rally.
As for "tattooed motorcycle thugs," some may have been present at one or more CofCC rallies for the flag, but Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Constitution and no friend of the Council, is far more accurate in her characterization of Council membership in a February 14, 1999, column in her newspaper. The CofCC, she writes, "is made up of upstanding, upright, churchgoing folk—doctors, dentists, lawyers, businessmen. And its members—some Republicans, some Democrats —have claimed important political positions. Across the South, especially in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina, its members are state legislators, city council members, state officials." Miss Tucker is entirely accurate in this description of CofCC membership and achievements.
It is unfortunate that Professor Wilson's ill-informed remarks not only reflect the media bias against the CofCC and similar conservative, pro-flag groups but also contribute to the divisiveness that has harmed the campaign to preserve the Confederate flag in the places of honor in which it belongs.
—Gordon Lee Baum
Chief Executive Officer
Council of Conservative Citizens
St. Louis, MO
I have subscribed to your fine magazine for several years now and have read many interesting and informative articles by Clyde Wilson. I was shocked, however, by some of Dr. Wilson's disparaging comments about the South Carolina Council of Conservative Citizens. His reference to Council members as "tattooed motorcycle thugs and David Duke followers" was most unkind.
Mr. Duke is a controversial figure in the Council, with both his admirers and detractors, but to characterize all Duke supporters as somehow disreputable is patently unfair. As a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens (and, I might add an avid motorcyclist), I have had the pleasure of meeting many members of the South Carolina chapter, none of whom I would describe as a thug.
Clyde Wilson seems to be of the opinion that political victory in the flag debate can be won solely by a coalition of aristocrats and academics, the same groups that largely ran from the battlefield during the desegregation battles of the 50's and 60's, leaving middle- and working-class white Southerners in the lurch.
The Council of Conservative Citizens has a role to play in the defense of symbols of Southern heritage. Dr. Wilson should put aside his snobbishness and work with the Council, not against it.
—Kenneth J. Schmidt
Upper Montclair, NJ
Dr. Wilson Replies:
Mv reference to the CofCC was made in the light of the blanket assertion, repeatedly disseminated by the leaders of the CofCC, that they were responsible for the victory in South Carolina. It is true the CofCC mounted a petition campaign which was useful and held rallies which, as I observed them, were as I described them. This very conveniently allowed the media to play the question as one of civil rights versus bigotry, when the actual contest is between Big Business and the people. The South Carolina legislature has the power in this case, and it is too much to claim that the legislature has acted at the bidding of the CofCC. Rather, our flag is still flying because of the strength of tradition and character that still characterizes our people, as I pointed out in my article.
I plead guilty, to my shame, to being an academic. I am too old to change now. I have never claimed aristocracy. I agree that the academics and aristocrats of the South have largely abandoned us plain folk, though I see some signs that this may be changing. But even if we had had our academics and aristocrats with us during the period of history to which Mr. Schmidt refers, it would have counted nothing against the frenzy of aroused Yankee self-righteousness and absentee moralism backed by federal bayonets that marked those times.
I used to know some Schmidts when I was younger. They lived on Deep Creek just this side of Browns Summit. There were some pretty girls in the family. They were some kind of Baptists, but the children all married Presbyterians. I never heard of any moving to New Jersey. But I appreciate Mr. Schmidt standing up for us Southern plain folk. He might be more useful, however, if he resigned from the CofCC and joined a group that is really concerned with preserving the South—an organization that is concerned with the real and living Dixieland, not, like the CofCC, with some "conservative white American majority" that exists only in the imagination of its leaders.