Dilemma Named Buddy Witherspoon
The State (Columbia, S.C.), Sunday, February 14, 1999
© Copyright 1999 The State
in politics is reality. And that's why national committeeman Buddy
Witherspoon is giving the state Republican Party political heartburn
association with the Council of Conservative Citizens couldn't
have come at a worse time as the party reaches out to African-American
says Vince Ellison, a black GOP activist who tried but failed
last year to get the party's nomination for the 6th Congressional
GOP Chairman Jim Nicholson has appealed to Witherspoon to quit
the council because of its "racist views." Witherspoon
of Charleston Professor Bill Moore, who has studied hate groups,
says the council certainly can be defined as a radical fringe
group trying to present itself as a more acceptable organization.
Republicans say Witherspoon should quit the council or his national
committee position. "He can't have it both ways," protested
Ellison. "This is why blacks are so reluctant to join the
party. It's because of situations like this. The party needs to
come to grips with it. If we hope to be the majority party in
this state ... we need to cleanse this foolishness out of the
Marion University analyst Neal Thigpen, a Republican activist,
says the impetus for Witherspoon's stepping down "should
come from the Christian Coalition members. ... They put him there."
said, "There's absolutely no question this causes the party
a public-relations problem."
Republican Party in the South was born out of segregation in the
1960s. In the past 20 years, it has attempted to redefine itself
by focusing more on economic and moral issues.
Witherspoon flap resurrects the old image of a party that opposed
integration and is not receptive to blacks -- an image the GOP
doesn't want. Ellison throws his hands up when stories like the
Conservative Council surface. His work to recruit blacks goes
is a game of perception. And when people perceive you a certain
way, that's what you are. We can't walk around here in the year
2000 and have all of this going on and not be perceived as racist,"
argues that race still defines Southern politics. "It may
not be as blatant and open," he says, "but the subtleties
are out there."
national committeeman Lonnie Rowell of Summerville served for
eight years before being upset by Witherspoon of Lexington County
in 1996. As long as he was an elected official representing all
Republicans, he avoided being a member of any controversial organization,
he says. To that end, he quit the National Rifle Association.
Edens, former national committeewoman from Columbia, says Witherspoon
needs to sever his ties with the council or quit the national
committee. "It's not that I dislike Buddy as a person. It's
just that I dislike what he's doing to the party," she says.
says the image hurts with whites who are sympathetic to the black
community and who are looking for a more progressive party. Right
now, he said, the perception is that the party is represented
by "fanatics and kooks ... and who wants to be with those
kinds of people?"
party would like for this to go away. But it may not be that easy.
The GOP has some image- polishing to do before the 2000 elections.
Bandy covers politics. You can reach him at (803) 771-8648 or
by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)