2003 Profile in Courage Award recipient David Beasley with Caroline Kennedy, May 12, 2003.

Background

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.