In November 1996, less than two years into his first term as governor of South Carolina, David Beasley, a conservative Republican, went on statewide television and asked the legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state house dome, where it had flown beneath the American flag and the state flag since 1962.
Although Beasley had begun his term promising not to move the Confederate flag from atop the dome, a spate of racially motivated violence compelled him to reconsider the politics and symbolism of the Confederate flag, and he concluded it should be moved. Contending that the flag had become a means to stir up hateful politics, Beasley suggested that it be moved to a place of honor at a Civil War memorial on state house grounds.
His reversal on the flag stunned fellow Republicans and generated an angry backlash among his conservative political base. Bumper stickers soon sprouted around the state, blaring, "Keep the flag, dump Beasley!" The South Carolina legislature rejected his proposal. Political observers believe bitterness over the Confederate flag was one factor that shrank turnout, particularly among the conservative Republicans who had been the mainstay of Beasley's political base, when he ran unsuccessfully for re-election in 1998. In 2000, the South Carolina legislature agreed to move the Confederate flag from the dome to the Confederate Soldier Memorial on state house grounds, just as Beasley had proposed four years earlier. But although it no longer flies above the dome, the flag's place on state grounds today remains a subject of debate.
Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, Former South Carolina Governor David Beasley and Former Georgia State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr. Honored with John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award
Boston, MA, May 12, 2003 — Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy today presented former Governor Roy Barnes (D) of Georgia, former Governor David Beasley (R) of South Carolina, and former State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr. (R) of Georgia with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes and former South Carolina Governor David Beasley were honored with the prestigious award for political courage for the decisions of conscience each man made when seeking to resolve his state’s divisive political debate over the public display of the Confederate battle emblem. Dan Ponder, Jr., a one-time Georgia State Representative, was honored with the Profile in Courage Award for his act of political and personal courage that led to the passage of Georgia’s first hate-crimes legislation.
“Today’s honorees’ devotion to our country’s fundamental values has been expressed in courageous deeds and words that are an example to all of us,” said Senator Kennedy. “We hope that this award will continue to encourage young men and women to enter public service and demonstrate their own dedication to high principle.”
“President Kennedy greatly admired those political leaders who had the courage to make decisions of conscience without fear of the consequences,” said Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “Governor Barnes and Governor Beasley demonstrated outstanding leadership in asking their constituents to reconsider the symbol of the Confederate battle emblem. Their courage in stepping forward to address this controversial and divisive issue should not go unrecognized.
“Georgia State Representative Dan Ponder proves that one voice can truly make a difference,” Ms. Kennedy continued. “By articulating his personal experience, and finding the courage to do so, he empowered others to act courageously and do the right thing. Today, his words against hate continue to inspire people around the globe. It is an honor to recognize and applaud these three outstanding individuals whose unselfish contributions to public service and courageous acts of leadership have advanced their states and enriched our nation.”
The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to an elected official who has withstood strong opposition from constituents, interest groups or adversaries to follow what he or she believes is the right course of action. Past recipients of the award include former U.S. President Gerald Ford, U.S. Senator John McCain, U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, U.S. Representative John Lewis, California State Senator Hilda Solis, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and America’s public servants who responded to the tragic events of September 11.
The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. The Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday.
Throughout the South, the Confederate battle emblem continues to generate intense political conflict, pitting those who see it as a symbol of slavery and racism against those who see it as a tribute to southern tradition and history. During the past decade, several southern states have become embroiled in flag controversies, and a number of southern public officials have attempted in various ways to shrink or eliminate the presence of the Confederate emblem from state officialdom.
Former Governor Roy Barnes (D-Georgia)
In 1956, less than two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Georgia state legislature adopted a new state flag bearing the Confederacy battle emblem. In January 2001, Georgia Governor Roy Barnes sought to diminish the presence of the divisive symbol. He won the legislature’s approval for a new state flag, which would dramatically reduce the Confederate emblem’s visual presence on the flag. Barnes went ahead with the flag change despite the likelihood that it would alienate his rural white supporters, who his polls showed were vehemently opposed to the change by a margin of 3-1.
After the legislature adopted the new flag, those who were opposed to the change erupted in a fit of outrage at Barnes. According to news accounts, supporters of the Confederate battle emblem staged protests at his public appearances, disrupted meetings, and threatened his family, and even his life. Barnes’s opponent, state legislator Sonny Perdue, made the flag a central campaign issue and promised voters a public referendum on the new flag. While the flag controversy was not the only issue in the race, it was likely a decisive one and contributed to Barnes’s defeat in 2002.
Former Governor David Beasley (R-South Carolina)
Since the early 1960s, South Carolina flew the Confederate flag over its state house, not as a state flag but to some as a symbol of South Carolina’s history and to others as a symbol of defiance of the civil rights movement. In 1996, Governor Beasley was compelled to tackle the controversial flag issue. A series of church burnings and the racially motivated shooting of three black teenagers caused grave concern about racial division across the state. As a first step toward uniting South Carolinians, Governor Beasley delivered a televised speech in which he asked his fellow citizens to help pressure lawmakers to remove the flag.
He said: “I’m asking that we come together as a people, to honor and understand each other, to forge a ministry of reconciliation that extends to every citizen…The Bible tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is time for the races to compromise on the Confederate flag to show Judeo-Christian love that will bring the races together.”
Governor Beasley worked toward compromise, suggesting the flag, once removed from the dome, be placed by a Confederate memorial on state grounds. But he was met with hostility, protests, and lawsuits, it was immediate and extreme, and from those of his own party. During his term, the Confederate flag continued to wave above the statehouse and he was defeated by an opponent who pledged not to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse dome. But today, the Confederate flag has come down from the South Carolina statehouse, a change made possible by Governor Beasley’s first crucial call to South Carolinians for unity and tolerance.
In November 1996, two years into his first term as governor of South Carolina, Republican David Beasley addressed the state in a televised speech and called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House dome. In the spirit of compromise, he proposed that the flag be flown beside a Confederate soldiers’ monument in front of the capitol building, resurrecting a proposal that had died in the House two years before.
Campaigning for governor two years earlier, Beasley said he would keep the flag above the dome. His reversal split the South Carolina Republican Party in two and generated thousands of angry letters. “Keep the Flag, Ban Beasley” bumper stickers were widely circulated, characteristic of the outcry that followed. While Beasley was the Republican incumbent in a Republican state, who presided over a booming economy, many political observers noted that his campaign for re-election was not helped by his position on the flag. In 1998, Beasley sought a second term as governor but was defeated by Democrat Jim Hodges, who promised flag supporters he would not lead the charge to take down the flag.
Former State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr. (R- Georgia)
On March 16, 2000, the Georgia legislature was in a bitter debate over the proposed enactment of a hate-crimes law. The House had just voted 83-82 to shelve the bill when Representative Ponder, a conservative Republican from rural southwestern Georgia who might have been expected to mount a vigorous opposition to the bill, stood up and gave an impassioned speech defending it. He had told no one of his plans to support the legislation. Representative Ponder gave his fellow lawmakers a deeply personal account of his childhood rejection of a family caretaker because she was black. In his speech, he said, “Hate is all around us. It takes shape and form in ways that are somehow so small that we don't even recognize them to begin with, until they somehow become acceptable to us. It is up to us, as parents and leaders in our communities, to take a stand and to say loudly and clearly that this is just not acceptable…I pledged to myself…that never, ever again would I look in the mirror and know that I had kept silent and let hate or prejudice or indifference negatively impact a person's life, even if I didn't know them.” At the conclusion of the speech, the House, Republicans and Democrats alike, gave Representative Ponder two standing ovations and subsequently voted 116-49 to outlaw and punish all hate crimes. Georgia Governor Roy Barnes signed the measure into law at a synagogue scarred by swastika-painting vandals.
Described by one recipient as the “Nobel in Government,” the Profile in Courage Award is accompanied by a sterling-silver lantern representing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg, Inc. and crafted by Tiffany & Co.
Roy Barnes, David Beasley, and Dan Ponder, Jr. were chosen as recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s prestigious award for political courage by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, chairs the twelve-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Al Hunt, Executive Editor of the Wall Street Journal; U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut); Elaine Jones, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts); Paul G. Kirk, Jr., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; David McCullough, presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague. John Shattuck, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. Shattuck is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor and a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
In selecting a recipient, the Profile in Courage Award Committee considers elected officials who have demonstrated the kind of political courage described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Kennedy wrote:
“The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people – faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but also elect men who will exercise their conscientious judgment – faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor and ultimately recognize right.”
Past recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award are former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliott, Sr. of Alabama; former U.S. Congressman Charles Weltner of Georgia; former Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker, Jr.; former Governor of New Jersey James Florio; U.S. Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas; former U.S. Congressman Michael Synar of Oklahoma; former Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin Cherubini; Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama Charles Price; Garfield County, Montana Attorney Nickolas Murnion; co-recipients U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin; California State Senator Hilda Solis; former U.S. President Gerald Ford; United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and former Palos Heights, Illinois Mayor Dean Koldenhoven. Special Profile in Courage Awards have been presented to the Irish Peacemakers – eight political leaders of Northern Ireland and the American chairman of the peace talks – in recognition of the extraordinary political courage they demonstrated in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement; legendary civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) for lifetime achievement; and America’s public servants who demonstrated extraordinary courage and heroism in response to the tragic events of September 11.
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.
Ann Scanlon (617) 514-1662
Caroline Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, Governor Barnes, Representative Ponder, members of the Selection Committee, Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, family and friends.
Up until Governor Barnes came along, I was the last living casualty of the Civil War.
My link with that war goes back to June 8, 1863. My great, great, great grandmother, Sarah Beasley wrote the Secretary of War for the Confederate States of America regarding the plight of her family. She said her husband and two of her children were in the same company in the War, but husband was now weak and sick; she said to please send home her husband and she would send her youngest, a 16-year-old boy, in his father's stead. Sarah Beasley's request is just a glimpse of the pride and strong emotions that have endured for generations in the North and South.
The Confederate flag is indeed a part of American history. And as a part of history, it should have its proper place. But, should it be worshipped? No. But, neither should it be destroyed and erased from history. The flag over time became abused and misused as a symbol for hatred and discord - on both sides of the issue.
By November of 1996, my second year as Governor, there had been 31 confirmed church arsons in South Carolina alone in the previous five years. There were many more across the South. Extremists opened a KKK museum in South Carolina. Isolated racial incidents and crimes of hate were beginning to increase in number, bringing embarrassment to South Carolina and the rest of the country. I knew this did not reflect the South Carolina and America that I knew and loved, and I knew I must do something about it.
I will never forget that day: I called in my staff and told them that I had made the decision to fight for the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol dome. I asked them to assume that this would cause my defeat, they would lose their jobs, and all the good that we had done would be forgotten and washed away in the headlines of defeat. Knowing this, I then asked them if they were still ready and willing to endure hardship for this cause. I looked around the room from person to person and asked each of them to answer from their own heart. They made me proud. Not a one said "no" or "let's wait until after the election."
On November 26, 1996, I addressed the people of South Carolina on live television to outline the basis for my decision. Here in part is what I said:
"A flag should be a symbol that unites all those standing below it...one that every South Carolinian can look up to with respect, admiration and the unshakable knowledge that the flag flies for them.
But I long for all South Carolina children something of even greater value. Like so many things the Bible puts it best: "Now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
The word charity combines the meaning of love and brotherly love and implies intense concerns for others. My friends, our children will not learn charity unless black parents and white parents start practicing charity towards one another.
The Bible also tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is time for the races to compromise on the Confederate flag to show Judeo-Christian love that will bring the races closer together and teach our children that we can live together in mutual respect."
Those of you who know politics well can surmise what transpired. I immediately was a hero to the press, the "intelligentsia", but to the politicians and public, it was an entirely different matter. Immediately, my poll numbers took a hit. The 'one-term Governor' line went from being unthinkable to being whispered in lonely places, to being thundered by political opportunists. Protesters began to gather and follow me around the state. Death threats? Sure. Honestly, that didn't really bother me. It was the threats against my family, my wife and children that hit home. Strange as it may seem though, these threats did not raise doubt in my mind nor cause me to have second thoughts about my decision. Rather, to the contrary, these insidious acts underscored the absolute necessity for action and confirmed in my heart that I was right.
To stand for what is right is good. But it is not sufficient. We must stand for what is right when it is right to do so. And there is more. We must stand for what is right not only when it is right to do so but also in the right way. We all know people who have stood for right when it cost them nothing. They beat their chests in the public square and roar from the top of their lungs their righteous indignation against the evil of the day, but they do so only when there is nothing to lose. This is of little value. You must be willing to stand for what is right when it will be the most effective even if it costs you everything. Martin Luther said: "Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point." Last, in this point, your effort and path of decision must be done in love. I have seen many political and religious leaders take noble stands for what is right, but do so in bitterness and hatred. This is wrong in itself. We must take our stands in the deepest essence of love.
It is disturbing today to witness the bitterness and harshness with which we treat one another in the world of politics or the halls of democracy. In some of my most enjoyable years in the political arena, my most outspoken opponents were usually my most respected and admired friends. We acted out of love and respect for one another and love and respect for the common good. Today, it is different. People have little respect for one another and little heart for compassion and mercy. I pray that this will change. For America's future depends on it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them."
In my case, there were many more "someones" than I really wanted to know about. Yet today, if you ask most of those people whether moving the Confederate flag from South Carolina's Statehouse dome was right or not, they would answer yes. It was not always so. It is remarkable how fast the transition of perception from my being a fool, then with a little passage of time, to being brave, and then eventually to what people now assess as "how obvious". My, how time does change things. But, isn't that what leadership is all about?
Remarks delivered by former South Carolina Governor David Beasley on accepting the 2003 Profile in Courage Award, May 12, 2003.
I'm honored to be here today with the winners of this year's Profile In Courage Award. Their devotion to our country's fundamental values has been expressed in courageous deeds and words that are an example to all of us.
This is the 14th year of the award. It was inspired by President Kennedy's book, and our goal is to encourage contemporary political leaders to be more willing to take on difficult issues and demonstrate the kind of political courage that my brother so admired.
We also hope that the award will continue to encourage young men and women to enter public service and demonstrate their own dedication to high principle.
In his book, President Kennedy told the stories of courageous political leaders who made difficult decisions and did the right thing under heavy pressure, and often at great risk to their own careers, and my brother would be especially proud of the winners this year. They rose to the challenge of prejudice and bigotry despite risks. They led by example and called on their constituents and their colleagues to reach for the best in themselves.
Over half a century ago, the modern civil rights movement began the historic and courageous journey, that took it into the armed forces, into the schools and classrooms of America - into voting booths to exercise the most fundamental freedom of our democracy - into local stores asking for the simple decency of eating at the lunch counter.
As they did so, the citizens in communities across the country had to look deeper into themselves. To their credit, most Americans responded with outrage as searing images of injustice poured out of television sets in living rooms across the nation. Sadly, there were those who could not let go of the past. Governor Barnes and Governor Beasley dared to challenge them so that their states could take a better and fairer path to the future.
The Confederate Battle Flag flying above the Capitol domes in both Georgia and South Carolina was a symbol of that past, and African Americans saw it as a continuing condemnation of them to the back of the bus.
Both Governors summoned the courage to meet the issue head on and tried to encourage a compromise. Governor Barnes skillfully obtained a major change in the Georgia flag. In South Carolina, Governor Beasley proposed that the Confederate Flag no longer fly atop the Capitol, but at a Confederate memorial on the Capitol grounds.
Both Governors endured a firestorm of outrage that divided their party and divided the citizens of their states. Protests erupted, and they were threatened with violence. Opponents made the flag a central issue in the next election. Opponents of the change turned out in large numbers on Election Day, as had been predicted, and both Governors were defeated for re-election.
Governor Beasley told the people of South Carolina, "Any banner we fly over the Capitol, where decisions about our children's future are made, should be one that everyone can claim as their own."
Governor Roy Barnes told his fellow political leaders in Georgia, "When the dust settles and controversy fades, will history record you as just another politician or as a person of conscience? The truth of the matter is, we only have one flag. It's the flag of the United States of America. I believe I'll stick with it."
Our third profile in courage this year is Dan Ponder, who electrified the Georgia legislature with a courageous speech against hate and prejudice. At the time, the Georgia legislature was considering hate crimes legislation, and as a conservative Republican his colleagues expected him to oppose it. But he has a story to tell about his own life, and he summoned the courage to tell it.
He spoke of a young black woman who had helped to raise him and take care of him since he was born. She loved him as if he was her own son, and he thought of her as his second mother. One day when he was 12 or 13, he turned his head away when she tried to kiss him as he went out to play. She stopped him and looked into his eyes with a look burned into his memory and said, "You didn't kiss me because I am black."
He denied it but told his colleagues from the well of the Georgia State House that "I have lived with the shame and memory of my betrayal of Mary Ward's love for me. I pledged to myself then and I repledged to myself the day I buried her that never, ever again would I look in the mirror and know that I had kept silent, and let hate or prejudice or indifference negatively impact a person's life, even if I didn't know them."
His speech made all the difference. The hate crimes bill had been about to be defeated, but it passed by an overwhelming vote. It's one of the all-time great political speeches, and I hope everyone who hears about it will read it. I intend to put it on my website this afternoon.
All three of our award winners today, each in their own way, have stood up to ancient hatreds and tried to put an end to the divisions between their fellow citizens. They are all truly Profiles in Courage.
It is my great honor now to introduce Caroline Kennedy, who continues to impress us all with her leadership here at the Library. I know her parents would be especially proud of the skilled work and devotion she brings to the Profile In Courage Award each year. They would also be so very proud of her latest accomplishment - her magnificent new book, "A Patriot's Handbook."
It is a remarkable anthology of the great historic speeches, poems, songs and stories that have been such an inspiring part of our country. As she says, they're the "building blocks of our democracy." They're also a timely reminder of the values Americans cherish and respect, especially after all we've been through as a nation in these last two years. Caroline's love of our country and love of its history comes shining through these pages. She's a joy to all of us who know and love her. Ladies and gentlemen, Caroline Kennedy.
Remarks delivered by Senator Edward M. Kennedy
at the presentation of the 2003 Profile in Courage Award to Governor Roy Barnes, Governor David Beasley and Representative Dan Ponder, May 12, 2003.