A South Carolina sheriff says he will not lower the American flag flying above his office to half-staff to honor the late Nelson Mandela because Mandela was not an American, according to news reports.
The sheriff’s refusal flies in the face of an executive order from President Obama calling on all flags at the White House, public buildings and grounds, military posts, naval stations and naval vessels to remain lowered through sunset Monday evening out of respect for Mandela.
The South African anti-apartheid icon died Thursday at the age of 95.
Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark told the Greenville News that such an honor should be reserved for Americans. He was quoted as saying: “The flag at half-staff is for Americans’ ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Clark said. “We should never stray away from that.”
He also told the newspaper that “I’ve always liked [Mandela] and been very proud of what he’s done,” but, he insisted, the honor should be “reserved for Americans.”
Reaction to the news of Clark’s decision was immediate and sharply divided. Many are saying it plays right into stereotypes about the racist South. Others acknowledge Clark’s point, but conclude that Mandela is a special case: “Lower the flag ... be a human being,” said one post on the sheriff department’s Facebook page.
There are many comments in support of Clark as well. On his personal Facebook page he is being lauded for the move: “Proud of you for standing your ground Sheriff, keep up the good work!”
On Saturday morning, an employee answering the Pickens County Sheriff’s Department phone sounded weary at yet another call about the controversy. The employee said that neither Clark nor anyone else would be available to comment on the matter, and that Clark would be back in the office Monday.
Clark’s latest post on his personal Facebook page appeared to echo that exhaustion over the controversy.
Posted Saturday morning, it says: “Well the news/Facebook cycle has run its course. Time to move onto the next subject because I have work to do for my community and need to devote my time elsewhere. Thank you for your support and comments. I urge you to read about President Mandela over the next few days of mourning and be inspired for public service for your community and the nation as he was. It [is] Pearl Harbor Day and thank a veteran today if you can.”