"Failure to thrive" is a clinical diagnosis that has always intrigued me. The term is used when physicians are unable to determine why an individual is not growing at a normal healthy rate; why its development is at a standstill. But I believe the phrase accurately describes many non-medical conditions. We all know people whose intellectual development seems to have been arrested at some point in their lives; folks that are failing to thrive. And I’ve experienced many a Monday morning when my condition could best be described as a failure to thrive.
Organizations also suffer from this malady. They get stuck at some point in their development and continue policies that are no longer productive. Eventually they become complacent and begin to atrophy. One such organization is the NAACP; especially the South Carolina chapter. This organization has had a rendezvous with insignificance for some years and it recently lost a sterling opportunity to reverse its downward spiral.
I’m referring to the election of a new NAACP president at the recent meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. The winning candidate, Dr. Lonnie Randolph, representing the old entrenched policies, was chosen out of a field of five candidates. But Randolph received only 16 more votes than the runner up, Ms. Madie Robinson, who advocates the pursuit of practical rather than symbolic issues. Although Ms. Robinson expressed serious concerns about the election process, she has not officially challenged the results.
One of the major differences between Dr. Randolph and Ms. Robinson is their opposing stance on the economic boycott against the state because of the Confederate flag’s presence on statehouse grounds. Randolph supports the boycott as well as other dramatic measures to eliminate Southern heritage. On the other hand, Ms. Robinson, and her supporters, believe that the Confederate flag issue is not a pressing one. They maintain that improving educational opportunities for black youths is far more crucial.
Ms. Robinson is one of four opposition candidates who recently campaigned before a group of about 100 members of the state organization. Interestingly, the candidates’ remarks contained no references to the boycott or the Confederate flag. When the subject was raised in the question and answer period, these candidates continued to give it a low priority. They also took issue with the state organization’s decision to hold the NAACP meeting outside of South Carolina in order to comply with the boycott. In fact, one candidate argued: "The people that need to be here, the underprivileged, can’t get here because they can’t afford to get to Charlotte."
In expressing concern over the threat gangs pose to black communities, another candidate stated: "There are more important issues than the flag. We need a new strategy. It’s something we need to do something about before it gets out of hand." And yet another candidate maintained that health care is the top problem facing blacks in South Carolina, stating: "AIDS is still rampant in our community, they just don’t talk about in the media anymore. I believe in being on the front lines, addressing the issues where they occur, … For too long we (the NAACP) have been almost like a social club."
Madie Robinson summarized the positions of all four candidates by advocating a new set of priorities for the state NAACP: "There are issues that need addressing and they aren’t being addressed. And if we bury our heads in the sand and act as if they are, then we have more serious problems than I thought."
But tackling the endemic problems facing black communities does not attract media attention nor does it produce photo-ops. On the other hand, protestations over the Confederate flag and the organization’s other anti-Southern "show business" ploys always get media coverage and that helps fill coffers during fund raising drives. This is because many of the organization’s donors live in other parts of the country and their knowledge of things Southern comes primarily from versions of the South fashioned by the mainstream media. Mainstream journalists usually defend all NAACP attacks on Southern heritage regardless of merit. They also write unflatteringly about Southerners who seek to preserve the region’s distinctiveness rather than allow it to be morphed into a clone of the Northeast. Worst of all, these journalists appear to be blissfully unaware of the growing discontent black Southerners are expressing over the NAACP’s priorities.
President-elect Randolph embraces the views of outgoing President James Gallman as well as another very vocal NAACP member, State Sen. Darrell Jackson. Insight into their philosophy, as well as their reading of American history, can be gained from recent pronouncements on the Confederate flag, the boycott, and the proposed burial ceremony for the bodies of eight Confederate sailors found when the submarine, CSS Hunley, was raised in Charleston harbor.
Responding to media questions about the necessity of continuing the boycott, Dr. Randolph stated: "You have to understand the dynamics and the politics of South Carolina’s leadership historically. Remember, this is the state that declared war on America. And that stubbornness that existed then still exists today." Randolph also stated that the Confederate flag "represent(s) white supremacy, which affects all issues for African-Americans in the state." And then Dr. Randolph made this remarkable statement. "Symbolism is realism in South Carolina."
The importance of the economic boycott was also defended by Mr. Gallman who stated: "Unfortunately, you’ve got legislators who would rather see our state plummet down in terms of lost revenue rather than do the right thing." As to its effectiveness, Gallman offered this curious assessment: "I think the mere fact that we (South Carolina NAACP) are in Charlotte says it’s working and working very well."
Senator Darrell Jackson vehemently objected to proposals put forth to honor the Hunley crew with a formal "lying in state" in the Capitol building; an honor that was allowed for a Civil War soldier whose remains were discovered a few years ago. The plans for a lying in state at the Capitol were eventually abandoned, possibly because of rumors of threatened public demonstrations against such a tribute. However, a burial ceremony for the Confederate sailors will be held in Charleston in April.
Regarding the consecration ceremony for the Hunley crew proposed for Charleston, Mr. Gallman stated: "However they choose to bury them, our concern is the number of dollars they are spending to bury traitors." Senator Jackson added: "Can you imagine how we would be perceived by the rest of the world honoring these men who fought for slavery?"
The H.L. Hunley submarine has produced worldwide media attention as well as a lengthy article in the National Geographic. This media coverage has generated immense curiosity in Europe as well as the United States. Those who have taken the time to inform themselves on the unique historical significance of the Hunley submarine believe that it deserves a museum of its own in Charleston.
But talk of a proposed museum for the CSS Hunley produced another angry response from Senator Jackson who objected to spending taxpayers’ money on such a project. Unable to quell the enthusiasm for the museum, Jackson demanded that "Visitors should be told the reasons for the Union blockade and be given the slaves’ point of view: that the 250,000 S.C. whites stood to lose their 400,000 slaves if they lost the war. The last thing the rest of the world needs is to regard South Carolina as the state where the Confederacy lives forever. We don’t need a shrine to the Confederacy."
We can safely assume that the unfortunate comments of these gentlemen offer a preview of coming attractions for the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP. These men don’t seem to understand that the slavery ruse has been squeezed dry. Not only does it fail to produce "white guilt syndrome" but even the black community has grown weary of the subject. Still we can expect the organization to continue alienating South Carolina whites with its harsh, but ineffectual, adversarial rhetoric. Symbolism rather than substance will continue to be the order of the day. And maligning Southern heritage will take precedence over the confrontation of crucial problems that Ms. Robinson and others claim are not being addressed.
It is imperative that Madie Robinson and other opposition candidates, who are pushing for a dramatic "new direction" for the state NAACP, continue their struggle. They must be encouraged by the vote in the recent election when they came so close to dethroning the impotent leadership still stuck in the 1960s. This opposition group is well aware that Confederate memorabilia; flags, songs and monuments, are not preventing blacks from achieving. They know that its time for their organization to end its failed economic boycott, ignore the Confederate flag and other Southern heritage symbols, and begin addressing the real problems plaguing black communities.
Gail Jarvis [send him mail], a CPA living in Beaufort, SC, is an advocate of the voluntary union of states established by the founders.