CHARLESTON, S.C. – Even as hundreds formed a human heart in Marion Square near Mother Emanuel Church, retailers and city residents were a little nervous about President Barack Obama’s arrival here Friday.
I say: “It’s wonderful the way Charleston has come together.”
They say: “Just hope it stays that way.”
For shopkeepers along King Street, the city’s main commercial strip, concerns are mostly logistical as the presidential entourage takes control of the area, more or less closing off the peninsula of downtown Charleston. The funeral for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney will take place almost exactly at the mouth of the peninsula, in an arena a little more than a block from the Mother Emanuel church.
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Brenda Orlacchio, manager of Copper Penny Shooz, said Wednesday that she wasn’t sure she could even get to work. By Thursday morning, she said, “As of right now, a lot of the stores that have been in business forever are not going to be open tomorrow.”
Since there are only three or four arteries leading into the downtown area, some customers may not venture into the historic business district. Residents who live deeper into the peninsula toward Charleston Harbor won’t be leaving their homes except on foot – many of them to attend the services.
Presidential visits are a big event anywhere, but Charlestonians are especially sensitive to the extra weight Obama’s presence brings to a fragile community. Though he will certainly bring a healing message to a community in need of one, there is a nagging concern that outside agitators might also show up.
Charles Rowe, editorial page editor of The Post and Courier, says the only real problem is having both the president and vice president in the same place. In addition to the president and first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe and Jill Biden, as well as a delegation led by House Speaker John Boehner, plan to attend.
With so many dignitaries in town, three local hospitals have cleared their decks for the day, adding staff and canceling scheduled medical procedures just in case operating rooms are needed, according to Dr. John Hallett, medical director and vascular surgeon at Roper St. Francis Hospital.
Surprisingly, some African-Americans have expressed concerns that the sudden focus on the Confederate battle flag could backfire and cause them problems. One of Hallett’s hospital employees, an African-American woman, said she passes several houses with Confederate flags in their front yards on her way home every day and worries how those folks will react to the flag being taken down.
This sounds strange to outsiders, no doubt, but such is the effect the sight of the flag has on many people, and not just blacks.
For this reason, and out of respect for the nine victims of last week’s shooting, momentum for its removal from the statehouse grounds is growing daily – often from some surprising quarters.
College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell, a Civil War re-enactor and former state senator who long defended the flag’s place on the statehouse grounds, now says it should come down. Republican State Sen. Paul Thurmond, son of Dixiecrat segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor urging the flag’s removal.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of these voices and the changes they foreshadow. America is witnessing not just a historic moment but a spiritual rebirth in the heart of the Deep South, prompted, sadly, by the deaths of nine people beloved by this community at the hands of a monster some here have no trouble calling “the devil.”
But evil in the person of Dylann Roof lost this battle. And those nine people, depicted on the front page of Charleston’s Sunday paper as nine yellow roses, have been reborn in a thousand ways.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.