Senator Robert Ford's Speech


Robert Ford is an African-American Senator from Charleston, SC. He has, in the past been a formidable opponent of Confederate heritage. However, he realized that Confederate heritage does not equal hatred and has now begun to work with us. He made this speech recently on the Senate floor in support of SCV license plates in South Carolina. Thanks to Senator Ford, the measure passed.

Comments by Senator Robert Ford, State Senate, February 14, 1999.

"Racial Intolerance and Coming Together in the New Millennium"

Members of the Senate. This is a strange role for me today because four years ago, maybe three years ago, I would probably have taken the same position as Senator Anderson from Greenville, and maybe make the comments that my good fried from Orangeburg, our senior Senator in the Caucus, John Matthews, made.

But, I think that with the kind of progress that we could make in South Carolina, we are going to have to maybe change our positions and have a different understanding on how to make people come together - and accept each other's culture and heritage.

If you look at the facts in South Carolina, number one - I have learned this the hard way - the people who love the Confederacy are not going anyplace. Their children love it and their grandchildren are going to love it. And they are going to love it from now on in South Carolina history. We can't change that.

Now, the reason I found that out is because I was willing to have an open mind when some Senators asked me to. Because when I came here, gentlemen, my mind was closed. There was no discussion on the way I felt about the Confederate flag, or anything else. But, if we have an open mind as Christian people, and if really want progress, you're not going to be able to hide the history of the Confederacy. You're not going to be able to stop the teaching of the Confederacy. And if those gentlemen and ladies could come together with African-Americans and African- American women by bending a little, then I would teach them.

Here's another point we have to understand. My good friend, Senator Holland, when African- Americans were educated in a segregated situation, we were educated with inferior material. Now the reason it was inferior was because after Senator Holland's school used the book for three or four years, they sent it to the black schools. We've learned the same American history, Southern history, that you learned. It's just been in the last few years that African-Americans got to study our scholars and, you might say, Confederate history from a new standpoint.

But, the common love I found in my research is because I was willing to listen. And they were willing to tell me. I went to all kinds of places and experienced the love that whites in South Carolina have. The love that they have for the Confederacy is deep. It's going to be rooted from now on and that's not going to change.

But, what has changed is that you have a willingness of Senators, like Senators McConnell, J. Verne Smith, Courson Wilson, and others, who have a deep love for the Confederacy and also are willing to reach out and work with African-Americans on legislation. And that's the most important thing.

Because I can't pass any legislation on my own, Senators Anderson, Matthews, Washington, Glover Patterson, and Jackson, we can't pas any legislation on our own. We need a lot of support and if they are going to support our issues and causes, then we are going to have to bend a little bit, too.

As I said before, this is a different Robert Ford now. Those gentlemen and ladies who live in Charleston would tell you that I would march against the Confederate flag. I would picket the Confederate flag, and I would march on The Citadel against the Confederate flag. When I came here in 1967 as a student, I was against the Confederate flag and I led the first demonstration in South Carolina against the Confederate flag. At that time, the Confederate flag had flown over the State Capitol for five years and I fought that. When I found out about it, Dr. King was alive. We came here for a retreat and I asked him about it, and he said that's another issue for another time. And I'm glad that Dr. King took that approach. Those of us who were in South Carolina to visit that time could have fought the fight to take it down. However, Dr. King said, ‘No, we need to deal with the basic civil rights.'

What I have learned from the South Carolina Senate is that the gentlemen and ladies in the Senate are willing to work with African-American causes. I think it would be a sin and a shame if African-Americans don't make the same concessions. As I said before, I hate to have to disagree with my friends on the other side, because I'm on a strange side this time. I don't think anybody in the country would expect me to get up here and make this kind of concession, but I have learned to respect Senator McConnell and what he stands for and the rest of the Senators who love the Confederacy. I even attend Confederate activities in Charleston.

As a matter of fact, one Halloween night - they had in Charleston what Senator McConnell would call a ‘Ghost Walk.' Something like 25,000 screaming Confederates attended. Two blacks - two African-Americans were there at the scene. One was a young man who was taking part in the activities as a slave, and myself. We were at Magnolia Cemetery, probably the most frightening cemetery in South Carolina. Everybody made me welcome. At that time everybody in Charleston assumed that I was probably the most militant of black militants who ever lived. But, they made me welcome.

From that day forward I started learning how these people feel about their heritage. I have learned to respect my heritage much more because of the love they have for their heritage and culture.

I would just like my friends, if they've got a desire to be present on this legislation, to ask them and plead with them to their objections to the Bill. I think we need to move forward as South Carolina citizens, black and white together.

Thank you.