COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley and South Carolina’s two U.S. senators on Monday joined the growing chorus calling for removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds after a white gunman killed nine black people last week in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Haley declared during a Statehouse news conference that South Carolina had “stared evil in the eye” last week, and it is time to fold the flag for good.
“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” Haley said. “One hundred fifty years after the end of the Civil War ... the time has come.
“There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment. I respect that. But know this — for good and for bad, whether it is on the Statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina. But this is a moment in which we can say that the flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”
Standing with Haley on Monday was a cross section of the state’s most visible political leaders: Charleston Mayor Joe Riley; Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott; U.S. Reps. Jim Clyburn, a Democrat, and Republican Mark Sanford; and the heads of both state parties.
Afterward, Riley praised Haley for exhibiting “leadership at this moment of sadness and crisis in our state. The flag belongs in a museum, he said, adding “it’s overdue.”
During a gubernatorial debate last year, Haley demurred when her Democratic rival Sen. Vincent Sheheen said the flag had to go, saying she had never heard any company CEO complain about it.
The governor’s announcement came as support to remove the flag built Monday as lawmakers discussed strategies ahead of their return to Columbia on Tuesday to address the unfinished state budget.
On Sunday, worshippers returned to what is known as Mother Emanuel for the first time since the mass killing on June 17. Haley attended the church service with her family.
“My children saw what true faith looks like,” she said. “My children saw that true hate can never, never triumph over true love. My children saw the heart and soul of South Carolina start to mend.”
Until the shooting, the flag issue had been mostly dormant in the 15 years since the compromise of 2000 when lawmakers agreed to move the rebel banner to the Soldier’s Monument.
It had flown above the Statehouse Dome since 1962 when it was hoisted as part of the state’s Civil War centennial. It was also viewed by some as the state showing its defiance to the civil rights movement and integration.
The NAACP had kept a tourism and travel boycott of the state in place because of the flag’s display, but with little effect.
All that changed after the church shootings. Outrage built over the past week with online petitions and activists across the country saying the flag was a symbol of the racism that allegedly had led to the killings.
A key issue now is how supporters of removing the flag choose to proceed. House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said before a bill that would take down the flag can be proposed, two-thirds of both the House and Senate would have to agree to it being brought up for discussion during the special session on the budget.
There is also a faster way — the House can pull a bill once it’s filed directly to the floor. But every lawmaker in the chamber has to agree with that move, which is unlikely, Rutherford said.
Proponents of removing the flag could have an uphill climb. A Post and Courier survey of state lawmakers — predominately Republicans who control the House and Senate — found there is no consensus that the flag has to go, with many saying it’s too soon after the tragedy to act.
The deaths of worshippers in the church, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, hadn’t changed the views of those who said the killings and the flag are unrelated. The 21-year-old Eastover man accused of murder in the killings, Dylann Roof, has been linked to a racist manifesto on a website with a photo of him holding a Confederate flag.
“I’m for leaving it where it is — absolutely,” state Rep. Chris Corley, R-Aiken, said when surveyed by the newspaper. “If I have to put 500 amendments on this thing to keep it there, then I will do it. This is a non-issue that’s being made an issue by certain groups trying to take advantage of a terrible situation.”
Rep. Grady Brown, D-Lee, will bring with him to Columbia on Tuesday the document his great-grandfather, a Confederate soldier, was forced to sign pledging allegiance to the Union army after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Thomas Peterson Evans signed it on June 23, 1865, exactly 150 years ago.
Now 71 and the longest-serving House member, Grady will vote to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds. He’d like to see lawmakers remove the flag in time for Pinckney’s funeral on Friday at which President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy.
“Let’s take it down on the very day Clementa Pinckney is memorialized and the president of the United States comes to give the eulogy,” Brown said. “What a fitting way to say enough is enough.”
Haley also mentioned her authority to call lawmakers back into session under extraordinary circumstances.
“I have indicated to the House and Senate that if they do not take measures to ensure this debate takes place this summer, I will use that authority for the purpose of the Legislature removing the flag from the Statehouse grounds,” she said.
Flag supporters, meanwhile, said the banner was being unfairly blamed for the actions of an accused murderer, whose crime they called “reprehensible” and in no way was reflective of their efforts to honor soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War.
“The flag didn’t cause Dylann Roof to do what he did,” said Randy Burbage, a Lowcountry leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who said the group is outraged by Roof’s attack. But he said removing the flag is not the answer.
“The Soldiers’ Monument is a war memorial, that’s it,” said Burbage, who was an organizer of many of the events to recognize the crews of the submarine H.L. Hunley.
Burbage also warned of the slippery slope of what could happen to other potentially offensive names and places in South Carolina if the flag is removed and labeled a cause of the Charleston violence.
“What we all are afraid of is, first the flag, then the monuments, then all the street names,” he said. Burbage said a more accountable source would be Roof’s parents, not the banner in Columbia.
State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, likened the removal of the flag to a “Stalinist purge.”
Former state Sen. Glenn McConnell, now president of the College of Charleston and the architect of the 2000 compromise, refused to comment Monday on the Confederate flag.
As word of Haley’s announcement spread, key sectors of the business and political community voiced their support, including the tire manufacturer Michelin which has a plant in Greenville.
“Michelin applauds Gov. Haley’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds and agrees that the flag must be immediately removed,” said Pete Selleck, chairman and president of Michelin North America. “We are ready to support our elected officials as they take the necessary steps to do so.”
In a statement, Boeing spokesman Rob Gross said, “We support the leadership of South Carolina and the steps taken today to address this important issue for the people of South Carolina.”
The leadership at Clemson University and the University of South Carolina also supported Haley’s move.
Prior to Haley’s announcement, officials met at North Charleston City Hall in a bipartisan gathering of politicians, activists and religious leaders calling for state lawmakers to remove the flag.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said the flag sends a message that state leaders are OK with what it symbolizes. “We have an opportunity to start a dialogue that will bring all of us into a better life,” he said.
Berkeley County Council on Monday passed a resolution, 5-0 with three abstaining, calling for the flag’s removal.
The group of lawmakers who will decide the Confederate flag issue is far from the same group that struck the flag compromise in 2000. Not only do both the House and Senate have new leaders, but few lawmakers serving today were in Columbia 15 years ago. Only 15 of the Senate’s 46 current members were serving in the Senate then, though four of them, including Pinckney, were serving in the House in 2000. Of the House of Representatives’ 124 members in 2000, only 19 remain in office.
At the North Charleston gathering, state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, one of the newest lawmakers in Columbia, said lowering the flag would be a step toward tackling racial divisions and help South Carolina move into the 21st century.
“Ridding the flag from the front of the Statehouse is a start,” Kimpson said. “But it will not solve the racial divide in South Carolina.”
Robert Behre, Andrew Knapp, Jennifer Berry Hawes, Brenda Rindge, David Wren and Glenn Smith contributed to this report.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
Full text of Gov. Nikki Haley’s speech
This has been a very difficult time for our state.
We have stared evil in the eye and watched good, prayerful people killed in the most sacred of places.
We were hurt and broken.
We needed to heal.
We were able to start that process not by talking about issues that divide us but by holding vigils, hugging our neighbors, honoring those we lost, and falling to our knees in prayer.
Our state is grieving. But we are also coming together.
The outpouring of love and support from all corners and all peoples in our state and nation has been amazing.
The families who lost loved ones have been unbelievable pillars of strength and grace. Their expression of faith and forgiveness took our breath away. They truly have shown the world what South Carolina looks like at our best.
And the Mother Emanuel church re-opened its doors yesterday. Michael and I were there. We took our two little ones, Rena and Nalin. My children saw what true faith looks like.
My children saw that true hate can never, never triumph over true love.
My children saw the heart and soul of South Carolina start to mend.
I want to talk a little about the heart of our state. I want to talk about the people of South Carolina I am so proud to serve. The country and the world have watched our strength and resilience over the last few days.
We are strong people who love God, our families and have a deep faith. We believe in neighbors helping neighbors. We are a state that has held tight to our traditions but continues to grow and change in ways that move us forward.
We were recently named the friendliest state in the country, and the most patriotic state too. American flags fly proudly from home to home across South Carolina.
In just the last few months, the nation watched our state go through another time of crisis, when we dealt with the betrayal of one of our own in the tragic shooting of Walter Scott.
South Carolina did not respond with rioting and violence, like other places have. We responded by talking to each other, putting ourselves in each other’s shoes, and finding common ground in the name of moving our state forward. The result: both Republicans and Democrats, black and white, came together and passed the first body camera bill in the country.
And I stand in front of you a minority, female governor, twice elected by people of South Carolina. Behind me stands my friend, Senator Tim Scott, elected by these same people as one of just two African-American members of the United States Senate.
Five years ago, it was said that in the last 50 years, South Carolina is the state that has changed the most for the better. That was true when I quoted it at my first inauguration in 2011. It is even more true today. We have changed through the times, and we will continue to do so.
But that does not mean we forget our history.
History is often filled with emotion, and that’s more true in South Carolina than in a lot of other places.
On matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history. We all know that. Many of us have seen it in our own lives, and in the lives of our parents and grandparents. We don’t need reminders.
In spite of last week’s tragedy, we have come a long way since those days, and have much to be proud of.
But we can always do more.
That brings me to the subject of the Confederate flag that flies on our Statehouse grounds.
For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble. Traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry. The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect, and in many ways, revere it.
Those South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity and duty. They also see it as a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during a time of great conflict.
That is not hate. Nor is it racism.
At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.
As a state, we can survive, and indeed we can thrive, as we have done, while still being home to both of those viewpoints. We do not need to declare a winner and a loser. We respect freedom of expression, and for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.
But the Statehouse is different. And the events of the past week call upon all of us to look at this in a different way.
Fifteen years ago, after much contentious debate, South Carolina came together in a bipartisan way to remove the flag from atop the Capitol dome.
Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds. One hundred fifty years after the end of the Civil War . . . the time has come.
There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment. I respect that. But know this. For good and for bad, whether it is on the Statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina.
But this is a moment in which we can say that the flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.
The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war. We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening. My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move our state forward in harmony, and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in Heaven.
The General Assembly wraps up their year this week. As governor, I have the authority to call them back into session under extraordinary circumstances. I have indicated to the House and Senate that if they do not take measures to ensure this debate takes place this summer, I will use that authority for the purpose of the legislature removing the flag from the Statehouse grounds.
That will take place in the coming weeks, after the regular session and the veto session have been completed.
There will be time for discussion and debate. But the time for action is coming soon.
I want to make two things clear.
First, this is South Carolina’s Statehouse. It is South Carolina’s historic moment. And this will be South Carolina’s decision. To those outside of our state, the flag may be nothing more than a symbol of the worst of America’s past. That is not what it is to many South Carolinians. This Statehouse belongs to all of us. Their voices will be heard, their role in this debate respected.
We have made incredible progress in South Carolina, on racial issues, yes, but in so many other ways. The 21st century belongs to us, because we have chosen to seize what is in front of us, to do what is right, and to do it together. I have every faith that this will be no different. It is what we do in South Carolina, it is who we are.
Second, I understand that what I have said here today will generate a lot of interest. What I ask is that the focus still remain on the nine victims of this horrible tragedy. Their families, the Mother Emanuel Family, the AME Church family, the South Carolina family – we all deserve the time to grieve and to remember and to heal. We will take it. I ask that you respect that.
We know that bringing down the Confederate flag will not bring back the nine kind souls taken from us, nor rid us of the hate and bigotry that drove a monster through the doors of Mother Emanuel that night. Some divisions are bigger than a flag. The evil we saw last Wednesday comes from a place much deeper, much darker.
But we are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is a something we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds – it is, after all, a Capitol that belongs to all of us.
July Fourth is just around the corner. Soon we will once again celebrate the birth of our nation and our freedoms. It will be fitting that our state Capitol will soon fly the flags of our country and of our state, and no others.
Thank you, and God bless the great people of South Carolina.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (center) embraces U.S. Sen. Tim Scott during a news conference in the South Carolina Statehouse on Monday in Columbia, S.C. Haley said the Confederate flag should be moved from the grounds of the state Capitol, taking her position on the divisive symbol amid growing calls for it to be removed.×
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey calls for removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds during a press conference in North Charleston on Monday.×