CHARLESTON, S.C. -- At the same time that the three Democratic presidential candidates celebrated the Confederate battle flag’s removal from South Carolina’s state Capitol grounds, Donald Trump gave a speech Monday in which he, bizarrely, dedicated the event’s record-breaking attendance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
That Trump, who has called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and advocated for a “complete shutdown” of all Muslims entering the United States, is leading the Republican field in South Carolina isn’t surprising to those civil rights leaders who have fought, since the 1990s, to take down symbols of white supremacy here. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to let his racism go unanswered.
Democratic state Rep. John King, for instance, has introduced a resolution proclaiming that Trump is not welcome in the state. King represents the town of Rock Hill, where, earlier this month, a Muslim woman silently protesting Trump at his campaign’s rally there was forced to leave. State House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford (D) and Democratic Reps. Joe Jefferson and David Mack, who were leaders in the push to bring the flag down, are co-sponsoring the resolution.
“When I saw the video of the woman being kicked out of the Donald Trump rally, I was truly sick to my stomach,” King told The Huffington Post. “It reminded me of the old Jim Crow footage from the 1960s. Most of [Trump’s supporters] have never ever met a Muslim, all they know is what they may have heard on Fox, and from Donald Trump, and he knows that plays on their fears.”
King, who is the chairman of South Carolina’s Legislative Black Caucus, said the state “can’t afford to roll out the red carpet to a modern George Wallace anymore” and that Trump “deserves to be put in a museum,” alongside the Confederate battle flag removed from the state Capitol grounds. (Now, Democrats are fighting the proposed $3.6 million display for the flag at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia, the state capital, saying taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for such a controversial symbol.)
The Confederate flag at the South Carolina Capitol was first placed atop the Statehouse dome in 1962, during the centennial observation of the Civil War, as a gesture of defiance to the burgeoning civil rights movement. In 2000, over 46,000 people marched in Columbia for the flag to finally come down from the top of the Capitol. The flag was moved to the grounds as a compromise, after months of pressure from business and political leaders and an economic boycott of the state by the NAACP.
That same year, South Carolina became the nation’s last state to officially designate MLK Day as a state holiday.
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D), who was the House Minority Leader when the flag was removed from the Capitol dome, has argued that lawmakers need to address criminal justice reform, poverty, gun violence and other issues to show real sincerity when it comes to fighting structural racism.
“I’m saddened by the kind of campaign Mr. Trump is running, but his rhetoric is the reality of South Carolina and of this country,” she told HuffPost.
The Rev. Joseph Darby, the former pastor of Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston and a leader of the state’s NAACP, called it a shame that more “good, decent people” in the Republican Party aren’t challenging and condemning Trump’s racism. He noted that a white supremacist group had run robocalls in Iowa urging caucusgoers to vote for Trump, and that Trump had refused to condemn the group's message.
"That’s their base," Darby said.
Then again, “[Republicans have] been blowing the dog whistle since the Nixon years. Trump is just blowing a bullhorn instead of the dog whistle.”
Darby said that the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse was an attempt to "do something quick and fast" to say that Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston last summer, does not signify broader racial divisions in the state.
"All it took was for nine black folk to get killed," he said ironically.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Trump on Sunday what he would say to African-Americans who believe King’s dream has not been realized. Trump said, speaking in the third person, that he would “be great for African-Americans.”
“President Obama, an African-American, has done a terrible job for African-Americans,” he said. “Donald Trump will do a great job for African-Americans. I'll bring back jobs to this country from China and many other places, and I'll let people work and make a great living.”
Also on HuffPost: