Carol Moseley-Braun makes victorious stand in Senate against Confederate flag
The first and only Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate went to the mat over patenting the Confederate flag as the insignia of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).
And in a brilliant parliamentary debut, she jolted the nation’s senior lawmaking body. By the time spirited Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun ended her lone valiant stand, the body retreated on its approval vote, reconsidered the measure, and defeated it in a historical switch on Preservation of “hallowed” Confederate memorabilia.
Protesting that the symbol of Southern pride in the Civil War caused descendants of slaves to suffer the indignity of being reminded of the horrors, Sen. Moseley-Braun objected to the Senate’s renewal of the insignia patent which included the Confederate flag in a wreath. She had made the issue of federal approval of the flag one of her Hill priorities.
What started out as a minor parliamentary flap suddenly turned into a nationally televised, emotional debate on racism, centering on the resurgence, in many parts of the country, of the Confederate flag.
Sen. Moseley-Braun stood on one side of the chamber threatening to keep the floor “until the room freezes over,” while the band of mostly Dixie senators describing the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) as “a valuable service organization,” battled her in another section.
North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, who introduced the renewal bill, described the UDC as “24,000 delightful gentle ladies.” He was supported by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, a longtime conservative.
In forceful response, the Illinois politician struck a tender nerve when she belted, “The issue is whether or not Americans such as myself who believe in the promise of this country … will have to suffer the indignity of being reminded time and time again that at one point in the country’s history we were human chattel. We were property. We could be traded, bought, and sold.”
The symbolism of the Confederate flag “is something that has no place in modern times … no place in this body … no place in our society,” she continued.
“I would like to put a stake through the heart of this Dracula,” said Moseley-Braun, whose indignant stand swayed the votes of other senators in the tradition-bound Senate.
They included Sen. Howell Heflin, an Alabama Democrat and grandson of a Confederate Army surgeon. His ancestors “thought what they were doing was right, but we are living today in a different world,” he said. “We must get racism behind us and we must move forward.”
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D., Colo.), who was with Moseley-Braun all the way on the Confederate flag issue, said he was sure some senators had voted with Helms earlier because of some “misguided idea that they were preserving some sort of tradition.”
“I think you saw here today on the floor of the Senate one of the reasons why I and others have been saying for so long there is a need for diversity in this body,” said Sen. Joseph Biden (D., Del.).
“The fact of the matter is that the senator from Illinois has pointed out something that has been sorely missing from this body – that one single voice speaking for millions and millions of voices in this country who feel like this body doesn’t understand their problems,” he said.
Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), said his colleagues should not miss the symbolism of the moment.
“We are 98 White men and women standing up and debating whether we ought to be sensitive to the feelings of one African-American woman and one native American man,” he said.
Joining her was a throng of senators, many who earlier had voted for the renewal without considering the minority impact. The only Native Indian member, Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, declared, “There are still places in this country where American Indians are called “Prairie Niggers.” Some of the Southerners broke down, including Alabama Sen. Howell T. Heflin, saying that he “could not put the stamp of approval on a symbol that is offensive to a large segment of America.”
COPYRIGHT 1993 Johnson Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group