Last week, when we interviewed Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell about his upcoming presidency at the College of Charleston, McConnell challenged us to ask ex-Sen. Robert Ford about McConnell's record on Confederate Memorial Day and the Confederate flag. So we did.
Ford was actively involved in the Civil Rights movement as a young man, but during his 20 years in the Statehouse, he found an unlikely ally: Republican Sen. Glenn McConnell, a staunch defender of the Confederate flag. As the longtime president pro tempore of the Senate, McConnell wielded a lot of power in state politics, power that Ford says McConnell used for the betterment of African Americans around the state. (Ford, a longtime Democratic lawmaker from Charleston, resigned in May 2013 while under investigation for allegedly using campaign funds for — ahem — dubious purposes.)
When the City Paper called Ford asking for a comment on the upcoming McConnell presidency at CofC, he didn't say much on the phone, but he promised to send a written statement in response. Ford ended up e-mailing us several press releases in which he called his former colleague "a man of honor and integrity" and "a scholar of the essence of the law."
Ford also CC'ed us on a letter he wrote to Josh Glasstetter at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which recently dug up some audio recordings of McConnell appearing on alleged white-nationalist radio shows. Ford wrote:
"As a 52[-year] veteran of the Civil Rights movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, I know racism and bigotry, and Glenn McConnell is neither. As a 40-year elected official in the city and on the state level, I will put the Glenn McConnell record against any other white person in this country."
We've summed up some of his other arguments below:
On Confederate history:
Ford says he first met McConnell in 1993 at "a gathering of Berkeley County Republican men" where, Ford says, "I received a thorough education about the Confederacy and what it meant to my white brethren in the South."
Ford says he introduced his first bill to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a state holiday in 1993 and then introduced a new version of the bill in 2006 that also added a Confederate Memorial Day that took the place of four optional Confederate holidays. Ford writes that he made the proposal himself and that McConnell was "not aware of this legislation until it was introduced and read across the Senate Desk."
On efforts to install black judges:
Ford writes: "The S.C. Legislative Black Caucus was dissatisfied with the disparity of black candidates seeking election to serve as judges. The Caucus staged a protest and walked out of a judicial election due to the absence of black judicial candidates. I was appointed by Sen. McConnell to serve on the Judicial Screening Committee. I served proudly for two and one-half years ... As a result of these efforts, 10 additional black judges were elected, increasing the number for 7 to 17."
On the African-American Monument at the Statehouse:
Ford says he and other Senators went to McConnell looking for help passing a bill that would establish a monument to African-American history on the Statehouse grounds. The proposal, which actually originated with a failed 1994 proposal by Republican Sen. John Courson that sought a compromise in relocating the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse dome, ultimately passed. The monument was dedicated in 2001, the year after the flag was moved to a Confederate soldiers' memorial where Main Street meets the Statehouse grounds.
Ford says the monument proposal took two years to pass. "During that process, Sen. McConnell assisted with the fundraising venture to raise the funds for the monument to be placed on the grounds of the Statehouse. Through our combined efforts, this feat was accomplished and would not have happened without Sen. Glenn McConnell's insight and guidance," Ford writes.
On lottery funds:
McConnell and Ford worked together to pass a bill creating the S.C. Education Lottery. After a successful referendum on the lottery issue, Ford says he and other senators went to then-Sen. McConnell asking him to support a request to set aside $650,000 annually for each of the state's black religious private colleges (Allen, Benedict, Claflin, Morris, and Voorhees). "Sen. McConnell agreed and went one step further and requested that his Senate Judiciary staff find a way to make this happen with legislative approval," Ford writes. "Glenn McConnell went above and beyond his call of duty to accomplish this noble deed."
On Senate committee appointments:
Ford writes: "Sen. Glenn McConnell has always been fair and equitable in the appointing of black senators to key Senate committees, Joint, Ad-Hoc, and other special committees. This was not necessarily the practice with other [presidents pro tem] who were Democrats."
On affirmative action and civil rights:
"I served as chairman of the Affirmative Action and Civil Rights Committee of the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus for 16 years, [and] each time I called on Sen. Glenn McConnell, not once did he hesitate to help me with an agency head, ultimately saving hundreds of jobs for minorities who had grievances and [were] threatened with the loss of jobs."