Rep. Joe Wilson is getting his 15 minutes of national fame after bellowing "you lie!" during President Obama's health care address last night. But Wilson earned notoriety in his home state of South Carolina in the late 1990s when, as a state legislator, he was one of the staunchest defenders of flying the Confederate battle flag over the state capitol.
As Firedoglake reported earlier today, citing the blog Inside Charm City, state Sen. Joe Wilson was one of only seven members of the South Carolina Senate to vote to keep the Confederate battle flag flying over the state house in 2000. In April 2000, the Senate voted 36-7 to bring down the flag.
But then-Sen. Wilson did more than vote to keep it: he went so far as to appear to defend the Confederacy, declaring that "the Confederate heritage is very honorable." Here's the full quote from a BBC News report:
But local lawmakers, like Republican senator Joe Wilson say it is all about pride and history, and nothing to do with racism and hate. He finds comparisons with Nazis odious.
"That's offensive to me that they would take my heritage and make it into a Holocaust era type description. I find that very offensive, and it's not true," Senator Wilson said. "The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage is very honourable."
The decision to fly the Confederate battle flag was made by an all-white legislature in 1962 as the civil rights movement was picking up steam. The bill passed in 2000 didn't even remove the flag entirely - it called for a different version of flag to be flown in front of the state house instead of on top of it.
The continued presence of a Confederate flag at the state house has caused the controversy to continue. In July 2009, the Atlantic Coast Conference - after discussions with the NAACP - decided to move three future college baseball tournaments out of South Carolina.
Chris Kromm is executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South.