By Kerry Steinhofer
This article is part of a series featuring Centre College’s 2018 John C. Young (JCY) Scholars. Centre’s JCY program, now in its 28th year, is designed to serve highly motivated seniors, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.
John C. Young Scholar (JCY) and international studies major Cameron Beach ’18, of Greenville, South Carolina, focused her senior year research on her home state and looked into the history and politics surrounding the 2015 removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds.
Beach’s project, titled “South Carolina and the Confederate Flag: The Untold Story of the Legislative Process to Permanently Remove the Flag,” allowed her to learn more about the political and cultural background of the Palmetto state.
Throughout Beach’s year-long research process, she conducted a series of oral interviews with state legislators, watched 13 hours of debate and visited the Museum and Library of Confederate History in Greenville.
“My research has found a number of themes used throughout the debate that have historical and cultural underpinnings,” Beach said. “I have also found that while Dylann Roof and the Charleston Massacre provided the political will to remove the Confederate flag, a feat that had not been able to be achieved for 60 years, there were cultural and ideological factors that threatened to derail the process.”
The idea for her research came when she was home in South Carolina during the summer of 2015, in the wake of the Charleston Massacre, as well as during the debate and removal of the flag.
“I was inspired by the political fight, as well as the national conversation surrounding the flag,” Beach added. “I found the conversations surrounding the topic fascinating while I was in South Carolina, and I wanted to dive more deeply into the background on this particular issue.
“In particular, I heard amazing stories from state legislators who were involved in the process of passing the bill that removed the flag, and I wanted to investigate more about how the legislative process occurred,” she continued.
When Beach began working on this project, she didn’t know the direction or shape the research would take. She said this experience had led her to a better understanding of how to conduct a larger research project.
Thankfully, students who take on these larger-scale projects don’t have to do it alone. Weekly, Beach would meet with her faculty mentor Tara Strauch, assistant professor of history, to develop ideas, research and further tasks. Beach said that working with Strauch was an amazing experience for her.
“She has walked me through the process of working on a research project of this size,” Beach added. “There were times when I no idea what to do next, or I felt that the task might be too large, but each week, we worked through small manageable pieces, and now, I am very excited with how it all came together.”
Strauch said it was an incredible experience working with Beach and “helping a student create and execute a complex research project is a bit like watching a baby grow,” as she watches the student learn and grow throughout the process.
“Cameron and I have wrestled with how public memory intersects with legislation and have often left meetings with unanswered questions,” Strauch said. “Cameron’s project isn’t just cool, it’s important.
“She has uncovered the complicated way in which public memory is intertwined with the legislative process and is working toward a better understanding of how the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina. Understanding how and why the legislative process to remove the flag happened challenged us to think about the way we talk about our world, our nation and our identity,” she concluded.