In their desperation to keep the Confederate battle flag flying on the state Capitol grounds, a few South Carolina legislators have produced the kind of absurd environment that would supply William Schwenck Gilbert — the literary half of Gilbert and Sullivan — with plenty of material to fuel the kind of satire that made the British pair’s comic operettas so successful.The symbolism and history of the Confederate flag is absurd enough, but a few representatives in the state House of Representatives were expected to propose two dozen amendments that would have the effect of delaying a vote to remove the flag from its perch on the Capitol grounds in Columbia, S.C. Some amendments actually call for the American flag to be flown upside down, according to news reports in Politico and The New York Times.
That’s literally topsy-turvydom. Topsy-turvy was a phrase long associated with Gilbert, who slashed, sliced and hacked apart Victorian England’s mores and class division with glee in the operettas on which he collaborated with Arthur Sullivan, who wrote the music. “Topsy-Turvy” was even the title of director Mike Leigh’s 1999 movie in which Sullivan threatened to break up the legendary partnership of the late 19th century.
The House debate follows the Senate’s overwhelming votes earlier this week to lower the flag and relocate it in the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. In South Carolina’s struggle to join the modern world, it is a sample of topsy-turvydom that the still-living T. Leland Summers has his head in the 19th century while the deceased Willie Gilbert had his head in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Summers, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in Columbia, wrote his membership: “We must light up the switchboard in the Senate chamber and House chamber to the point it blows up.”
What Gilbert could do with that notion today on London’s West End or our Broadway.
After the Confederate battle flag has flown on the Capitol grounds for more than 50 years, it took the June 17 massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to provoke the current drive to remove the flag. Charleston County prosecutor Scarlett A. Wilson said Dylann Roof, 21, was charged with nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and one count of a weapons charge, the Times reported. Roof is white and nine victims were black.
Gov. Nikki R. Haley, a Republican, urged the removal of the flag after she learned that Roof was photographed prior to the shootings with the Confederate battle flag.
The amendments could hamper legislative action because the House permits 20 minutes of debate on each amendment.
Let us remember that flag supporters like Summers would argue that his ancestors fought in the Civil War to retain states’ rights. No doubt that Gilbert would depict states’ rights as the right to deny others their rights.