COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Confederate battle flag has been an albatross around David Beasley's neck for 20 years, costing him the political legacy of a second gubernatorial term, a seat in the U.S. Senate and beyond.
Now that it's been removed from South Carolina's Statehouse grounds, the former Republican governor says the unity that has grown from the flag debate was worth the wait — and personal sacrifice.
As governor in 1996, the native of Darlington, in South Carolina's northeastern corner, infuriated fellow Republicans when, amid threats of boycotts and lawsuits and protests, he went on statewide television, saying he had reversed his position in whether the flag should remain atop the dome after praying about it.
Lawmakers rejected Beasley's plan to relocate the flag to a monument on the grounds, and voters bounced him from office in a 1998 re-election bid.
Yet, in 2000, Beasley watched as his proposal essentially came to life, as the flag was raised on a pole near a monument to Confederate soldiers.
In 2004, Beasley returned to politics, vying for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Fritz Hollings. Confederate flag supporters hounded Beasley at almost every campaign stop, accusing him of being disloyal and dishonest for wanting to move the flag from its perch on the dome. Receiving the most votes in the primary, he ultimately lost to Jim DeMint, left politics and went on to teach at Harvard University, do missionary work and receive a Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum for his work to move the flag.
A similar controversy also brewed in Georgia. A Confederate emblem was attached to the state flag in 1956. In 2001, then-Gov. Roy Barnes decided to get rid of that flag. His action caused so much outrage that Barnes — like Beasley — was voted out of office in 2002. And like Beasley, Barnes was honored with a Profile in Courage award.
This week, Beasley watched as another Republican governor, Nikki Haley, put ink to paper and signed the bill that would remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds entirely.
Choking up as he reflected on the nine black Charleston churchgoers — including the church pastor who served in the South Carolina Senate, Clementa Pinckney — whose deaths last month fueled the momentum that ultimately pulled the flag down, Beasley said he spent the days after the shootings talking to lawmakers whose minds he would have never thought would change when it comes to the flag.
But, after having heard victims' relatives espouse forgiveness and love toward the man accused of the killings, he said legislators told him their hearts had been changed.
"I realized then that we'll resolve the flag issue not by bitterness and hatred and division but by love and mercy and compassion," he said.
After Haley's bill signing ceremony on Thursday, Beasley said his prayer from long ago, the one that prompted him to take to television airwaves to voice his opinion, had finally been answered.
"God's got his own timing," Beasley said, with a laugh. "I knew it would happen. I didn't know it would be at this date, and I think we all regret that it happened the way it happened, but the fact is, we are where we are. And all things aren't good. But God says all things can work to the good if we only truly believe."
Jeffrey Collins in Columbia contributed to this report.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP