1997 — professional winner
What some call heritage, others call hate.
Generations of heart-felt passions and enduring pain on both sides are bundled into the folds of the Confederate Battle Flag that flies above the South Carolina State House. This photographic essay will record the people behind the intense debate over whether it should remain flying; those who have suffered long under acts of oppression, and the descendants of soldiers who fought for the preservation of a way of life they held dear. These are people who have shared a native soil but not an ideology. This essay will pursue a sincere understanding of what is meant by "heritage" to all South Carolinians, what the flag represents for each of them. In some cases it will unearth a legacy of intolerance, in others, reveal enduring profiles of pride.
I hope the documenting and presentation of these diverse points of view can help neighbor understand neighbor, to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, keep them from burning each others churches or teaching their children to shun one another.
To say the Civil Rights Act brought hatred and conflict to an end in the South would be naive. It was this very act that caused South Carolina legislators to raise the Confederate flag in 1962. Ostensibly to commemorate the beginning of the Civil War, it was simultaneously an act in defiance of Civil Rights legislation. Today, South Carolina is the only state to fly the Confederate banner. After two decades of enduring the flag, the summer of 1994 spawned renewed grass roots efforts: marches with the flavor of the 1960s, young people and old, silently protesting the use of the Confederate battle flag as a symbol for the seat of state government.
A series of mishaps within the NAACP took the wind from activists' sails. The newly-elected conservative governor made the flag's status permanent with his first stroke of the pen. This same governor, however, citing a worsening racial climate and fears for the state's image in luring potential industry, proclaimed in November 1996 he prayed heavily over the issue. Today, he wants to bring the flag down. Once again, the flames have been fanned.
Now is the time to document what could be the most significant act in South Carolina since the firing of the first cannons at Fort Sumter to begin the Civil War.
In this state, the Confederate battle flag honors cherished fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who fought and died for what they believed in. That same prominently displayed banner is a lurid symbol of racial division, lynchings, an underlying hate. What is heritage? Through photographs I can give a voice to that heritage, document how it has manifested itself in today's populace. And it is now, while the legislature debates the flag issue, when people will be most vocal.
A young boy was shot outside a night club by white men with a confederate flag flying out the back of their pickup truck. He lived, fortunately and in a twist of irony, he is defended by a formerly pro-flag white man. Two prominent brothers, both state representatives who have lived together most of their lives, have just declared different sides of the issue on whether to keep the flag flying or not.
A black minister who wants to clear undergrowth from the graves of his parents, on land where the family worked as slaves, is denied access to the land. But a white man seeking to find and clean the ivy-gripped graves of fallen confederate soldiers is shipped new tombstones by the federal government.
I have been photographing the people in South Carolina on both sides of the flag debate since that summer of protest in 1994. Presently, however, I am a Knight Fellow at Ohio University in Athens, a good distance from South Carolina. I have no income to support me in trying to continue my work. The Alexia Foundation support would allow me to complete a significant work in progress. This visual documentation can put a face on one of the last strongholds of the true South as it realizes the rest of America has found it and wants an explanation.