Charleston Forum: The Future of the Past Panel

Highlights from the Future of the Past Panel at the Charleston Forum on June 16, 2017.

David Blight, Director of Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center 
State Senator Paul Campbell (R-Goose Creek)
Ethan Kytle, Fresno State 
Reverend Nelson Rivers 
Blain Roberts, Fresno State 
Moderator: Bobby Donaldson, University of South Carolina

David Blight: “Baldwin also said in 1962…’the problem with the way Americans use words about the past is that they use them to cover up the sleeper, but never to wake him up.’ Cover the sleeper, but don’t wake him up. How much truth in that? How often do we all want the past to make us sleep well at night? To give us a story, a pleasant story. A story we want to live in.”

Ethan Kytle: “In recent years Charleston has begun to improve upon its elitist, monochromatic approach to the past. Still, Charleston, I would say, has a long way to go if it truly wants to live up to the billing of America’s most historic city and given that is its self-proclaimed mantle I think Charleston has a responsibility to do this.”

Blain Roberts: “Resistance to Charleston’s official version of its history is not new. The challenges to white historical memory that we have seen since the Emanuel massacre two years ago has a long genealogy. And I think its well past time to listen to these voices of resistance and take action. Particularly when it comes to the city’s commemorative landscape. Charleston cannot continue to whitewash its past.”
Rev. Nelson Rivers: “Your perspective on this (Confederate battle flag) is your trying to give honor to something that to me can never be honorable. Clementa said as long as I’m in the Senate or around that flag…will never come down. What I didn’t know is that we’d have to pay so much for it. It was a bad bargain and a bad deal. This is my point: If the flag was bad the day after the death of the nine it was bad the day you put it out there. What changed?”

Paul Campbell: “You don’t rewrite history by removing those statues. We need to learn from the past. If you don’t learn from history, you’re going to repeat it. So many people in this state had family that were lost in the Civil War, I’m talking about whites. They see it as heritage and as honoring their family.”