Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Will Change Come to Charleston?

    • Posted on Jul 05, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Today's Courier Column on what we observed the day of Clementa Pinckney's funeral in Charleston. Charleston came to a halt for several hours that day (June 26) as the whole world watched a national mourning ceremony for nine victims slain purely because they were African-Americans.  The Bad Old Days of the apartheid South had reared its murderous head.  
    Here's King Street, Charleston's main shopping street looking northwest that morning. Normally it would be packed with traffic and shoppers: 


    And here's Mother Emanuel church, where Clementa Pinckney was pastor.  This is about as close as we could get, given the crowd and the blocked-off street:  

    The South Carolina legislature will meet in special session next week, hopefully 
    to start a series of actions that might lead to real dialog and change, beginning with removing that Confederate battle flag on the statehouse grounds.  

    So there we were June 17, waiting to meet relatives in Charleston when our niece texted that eight people had been shot within walking distance, and the killer was on the run. 

    Needless to say, we dropped everything to watch Charleston TV news reports. 
    A decade ago, my wife and I chose to vacation in Charleston for two months a year.  The “Holy City” became our second hometown, and I navigate that peninsula about as well as I do the Cedar Valley. 

     It’s not home, but it’s familiar and comfortable.  Until now.     

     Now it’s a shocked, grief-stricken populace, struggling to deal with the raw hatred and violence that comes with racists who act on their beliefs.  No Charleston street violence broke out in response, thanks to city, police, and church leaders who were on the scene immediately, offering condolences and explaining their search for the killer. 

     He was arrested before noon the next day. 

     Mayor Joe Riley deserves much credit for being there every step of the way, and for articulating the racist horror that had shaken Charleston.  So too with the police chief and several church leaders.  

     Yet there’s still anger, showing up as defacing local Confederate statuary, both on the Battery and Marion Square, a block from the site of the murders.  That statuary, which celebrates “The Noble Defenders of Charleston” and staunch slavery defender John Calhoun now must be protected 24/7 against such vandalism. 

     We walked up to Marion Square the morning of Clementa Pinckney’s memorial service hoping to hear some of the service from inside. The nearby basketball stadium, where the funeral was held, had filled long before we arrived.  Outside in sweltering heat, we felt a somber city standing still, seeking hope beyond sadness and dismay.    

     Store window signs on King and around Calhoun streets near Mother Emanuel church read, “Pray for Charleston,” and “No matter how dark the nights, the day will come” and “Love Wins Every Single Time.”   

     Needless to say, no Confederate flags were waving in Charleston, though they’re on serious display in the “Daughters of the Confederacy” museum downtown, along with hundreds of other Civil War relics.  No one protests that museum, nor should they. 

     The Confederate Flag on the statehouse grounds in Columbia did get removed for an hour last Sunday by a pole-climbing protester, but quickly replaced.
    The South Carolina legislature will meet soon to discuss whether the state should continue its celebration of the Confederacy via the flag. 

     I’ve observed dozens of city monuments around downtown Charleston and even more in nearby Magnolia Cemetery.  Scores of Confederate soldiers lie there, some with elaborate markers and celebratory commemorations. 

     To my knowledge, no cemetery or city monument adds the words “Even though the cause was wrong . . .” Or “Blinded by their beliefs, they fought nobly for the continuation of slavery.”  

     To do so would, they say, dishonor their sacrifice, or even misstate it, since they were “really” fighting for states’ rights.   However, most historians believe that “states’ rights” is code for legalized human enslavement based on race.      

     As President Obama said during his eulogy for Reverend Clementa:  Removing the flag from statehouse grounds “would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong . . . .It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”  

     The President’s larger point was reconciliation, a move toward an “honest accounting” so that healing can begin.  Healing begins with that honesty. 
    It takes humility and grace to admit you were wrong.  At a terrible cost, Charleston and South Carolina are about to do just that.   

     After 150 years, it’s time. 

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  • Flag Debate Comment Still Relevant

    • Posted on Jun 25, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    The following piece was published in the Waterloo Courier on July 9, 2000.
    It dealt with the Confederate Flag debate when South Carolina moved it from a main statehouse building to a lesser structure, where it still sits today, though 
    evidently not for much longer, judging by the emerging consensus about taking it down permanently.  

    There was no such consensus fifteen years ago, that's for sure.   

    Here's the column:  

    Real trouble begins when people stop talking. If that's true, there's  trouble in Dixie.

    I spent last week in the Carolinas, first in the mountains of North Carolina, and ended in Spartanburg, South Carolina with relatives.  A major story hit all the papers that Sunday, and only three people would even touch it in conversation with me.

    The story?  The lowering of the Confederate Flag at the South Carolina Statehouse.  It happened last Saturday, July 1. The Confederate flag was lowered by two Citadel cadets (one black, the other white) in a solemn ceremony and placed at a different but still visible site on the Statehouse grounds.

    A huge crowd observed that ceremony, and they were literally at each other's throats. Nobody was happy with the legislator's compromise solution of moving the Stars and Bars.

    That Sunday morning, The Charlotte Observer ran a four-column front-page story with a huge color picture, and three more stories inside with more pictures. Their headline:  "THE FLAG COMES DOWN AS ANTAGONISM RISES." 

    Incidentally, the story hardly made a bump in Iowa. The Courier ran a brief notice with two pictures on page 4 and the Register didn't mention it.  The Civil War has been over now for 135 years, and though racism still simmers in America, each generation takes it down a click, it seems.

    Yet not in the deep South. All of the Charlotte Observer's stories and columns pointed to the same issue:  Overt racism is alive and well in the South in spite of decades of school and cultural integration.

    According to reports, flag-supporting "rebels" shouted  "go back to your tribe" to blacks and a white man shoved his confederate flag into a black man's face, snarling "Here boy, get a whiff of this."

    I could hardly believe such redneckery still exists anywhere, and I wanted to talk about it.  No takers until I met a former Iowan early Sunday afternoon.  He had moved South from Keokuk some fifteen years ago, and told me "Southerners don't like outsiders coming down here and telling them what to do. They think they can handle their own problems, and that's why they're so upset at the NAACP boycotting the State."  

    I replied, "Surely they know that the Confederate flag was raised in 1962 to protest and antagonize the civil rights movement. And that it's reasonable to see it as a symbol of slavery." 

    He shook his head and changed the subject.  I felt a bit like an outsider, even with my fellow Iowan.

    Later in the day, when a local woman mentioned that "Northerners" had no business telling people how to live, I realized that I had just been told: You damn Yankees mind your own business.           

    On Monday a young man did open up, telling me that "No matter how much you give them, they want more. There's no satisfying them. That's what has me upset."

     I asked politely and quietly. "Who do you mean by "them"? 

    He said, "Those NAACP activists.  They come down here and make us all unhappy."

    He went on like that awhile, and I could only reply that if he had been enslaved for 350 years he'd probably be upset about symbols of slavery too.  Maybe he would even become an activist.

    He then went silent too, as did I.   There wasn't much more to say.

    At bottom, white Southerners have felt, and still feel, pushed around by the rest of the country, and they resent it. Though the vast majority are moderate, they still harbor deep beliefs that race matters, that some people are more equal than others, and that the "races" shouldn't mix any more than necessary. 

    Though they're embarrassed by their redneck image, they aren't doing much to change it,  and they aren't talking about it.

    Silence reigns. And trouble brews.

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