It was a jarring sight. The Confederate flag was flying above the State Capitol building in Raleigh.

No, this wasn’t the Civil War. It was May 10, 1977.

Jim Hunt had been governor just four months. I was his press secretary, and I was on my way to the press office in the Capitol that beautiful spring morning when I saw the flag. It stopped me in my tracks.

I asked the Capitol historic staff about it. They said it was Confederate Memorial Day and, by tradition, the Confederate flag flew over the Capitol every May 10. That was the date of Stonewall Jackson’s death, and the date Jefferson Davis was captured after the war.

I don’t recall what happened next; nor can anyone I’ve asked. But somebody talked to somebody, and the flag came down that morning.

I do recall what happened then: Thad Eure went ballistic.

Eure was North Carolina’s longtime secretary of state. First elected in 1936, he called himself “the oldest rat in the Democratic barn.”

He was also an unreconstructed Southerner. He liked to wave the Confederate flag at UNC football games. He was the author of the notorious Speaker Ban Law in 1963.

Eure complained loudly about taking down the flag. Some legislators joined him. It was such a big stink that a compromise eventually was worked out. In the future, the Confederate national flag — the “Stars and Bars” — would be flown on the date, not the notorious flag that is a symbol for racism and a banner for racists.

I don’t know how long that practice went on. But it was still too long.

I thought about that day when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered Confederate monuments removed from Capitol Square.

I thought about how many years so many of us took for granted those Confederate symbols and statues — and much, much worse.

I thought about the Ambassador Theater, Raleigh’s finest, one block down from the Capitol on Fayetteville Street. Blacks couldn’t sit with white movie-goers; they had to sit in the upstairs balcony.

When the Raleigh Caps

minor-league baseball team played in Devereaux Meadow (I saw Carl Yastrzemski hit a home run there once), Blacks had to sit in a separate section along the left-field line.

The Sears store in Cameron Village, where Harris Teeter is now, had “white” and “colored” bathrooms and water fountains.

Jesse Helms was on WRAL (“The Voice of Free Enterprise”) every night, fulminating against Martin Luther King, the Kennedys, Terry Sanford, the “liberal News & Observer” and communist agitators behind the “so-called civil rights movement.”

In those days, TV stations signed off the air late at night. Most stations played the national anthem over video of the American flag. Not WRAL. It played a slow, mournful version of “Dixie” over photos of mossy plantations and Civil War battlefields.

I went to Raleigh public schools for 12 years, after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation decision. I never had a Black student in my classrooms. There were few Blacks when I went to N.C. State in the late 1960s.

At some point in the ’60s, many white Southerners realized that the old ways were wrong. An older friend remembered going to UNC, hearing about the civil rights movement and suddenly realizing, “Everything I’d accepted about race all my life was just wrong.”

It was wrong, and it was wrong for way too long.

Take it down, Governor. Take it all down.

Gary Pearce is a former political consultant and frequent Pilot contributor. He was an adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt, 1976-1984 and 1992-2000 and is author of the book “Jim Hunt: A Biography.”

(6) comments

Judi Rhodes

As a friend of mine from New York said, "We should have picked our own cotton."

Kent Misegades

Funny, those flags that are a piece of undeniable history are banned, but symbols of domestic terrorist organizations such as Antifa and BLM are gleefully painted on the sides of buildings and on our streets. And there is no push-back from the Democrat mayors of the cities where this is happening. Flags are not racist and they don’t kill people. Just because some label certain flags as racist does not mean that we all must agree. What about the giant clenched fist in downtown Detroit, a symbol of a former movement that sought to kill all whites through armed violence? It’s still there, but Detroit is essentially a dead city, killed by its Democrat leaders and its own citizens. Democrats can remove statues and ban flags, but it won’t erase the fact that they are the party of segregation and genocide of Blacks through abortions.

Conrad Meyer

Kent,

I lived in southeast Michigan for 35 years. I agree that the Democrats have absolutely destroyed a vibrant city over the years but that is not the reason for my post.

I disagree that the fist in downtown Detroit is a symbol of violence. Although I was not there during the 1967 riots, I was there less than a decade later during the healing process. The fist is a memorial to Joe Louis and is revered as such by everyone - no matter what race. You might take the time to read this article - published before all the recent BS. You will learn that the fist was donated by Sports Illustrated in 1986 to commemorate the second Louis-Schmeling fight and is called the "Monument to Joe Louis". Nobody I have ever met thinks of the monument in the way you describe. They think of it as a celebration of a Black American hero and a punch in the face to Hitler.

Next time I'd suggest picking a monument you know something about.

http://www.dailydetroit.com/2015/07/10/the-real-story-behind-detroits-giant-joe-louis-fist/

Mark Hayes

Mr Pearce... You probably should get on your knees, or on your belly, crawl begging for forgiveness.

Dan Roman

The battle flag of the Confederacy didn't kill anyone but those who flew it did in the defense of an economic system based on slavery when they declared war against the United States.

Peyton Cook

At the beginning of the Civil War American cotton production which furnished the cotton mills of the the North and Great British drove the economy

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