After several days of silence on the issue, College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell released a statement Thursday morning supporting Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds.

CofC President Glenn McConnell’s statement on the Confederate glag

I served with Senator Clementa Pinckney in the South Carolina Senate since he joined that body in 2001. He was a friend of mine and many other senators. His big smile lifted our spirits and his powerfully mellow voice conveyed great intelligence as well as a kind and loving heart.

During this period of grief, before Reverend Pinckney and the eight other Christian martyrs killed by a hateful terrorist have yet to be buried, I had hoped to avoid commenting on political issues. However, the rising tide of emotion over Governor Nikki Haley’s call to remove the Confederate soldier’s flag from State House grounds and numerous requests for me to comment have made a respectful period of silence on political issues impossible.

So here is where I stand: About 15 years ago, when I was a state senator, my colleagues and I forged a bipartisan and biracial compromise. We removed the Confederate soldier’s flag from atop the State House dome and relocated it behind the Confederate soldier’s monument, a place of historic – not political – context. We also erected an impressive monument celebrating the many African American contributions throughout our state’s history. And we passed the Heritage Act, to protect both Civil War and Civil Rights monuments, street names and building names all across the state. Our plan was designed to end acrimony and move our state forward with a spirit of good will and mutual respect. As imperfect as all compromises are, it lasted for 15 years.

Today is a different time. In the aftermath of the horrific tragedy that spilled the blood of nine souls within the hallowed halls of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the time has come to revisit the issue of the Confederate soldier’s flag, which a number of our citizens regard as offensive.

Many other citizens regard the old soldier’s banner as a fitting memorial to the Confederate dead. However, on State House grounds, we should seek to respect the views of all citizens as best we reasonably can.

Therefore, I support Governor Haley’s call to remove the Confederate soldier’s flag from State House grounds as a visible statement of courtesy and good will to all those who may be offended by it. At the same time, I also urge all public officials and activists who are focusing on this issue to come together, the way the good people of Charleston joined hands following the terrible tragedy we suffered, and agree not to transfer the fight to other physical vestiges and memorials of our state’s past. In a spirit of good will and mutual respect, let us all agree that the monuments, cemeteries, historic street and building names shall be preserved and protected. How sad it would be to end one controversy only to trigger a thousand more.

The people of South Carolina are entitled to their complete history, the parts that give us pride as well as sadness. We learn from our past and we grow from exploring our shared history.

If we all insist on it, this experience can mark the beginning of a new era. Let us all pledge to respect each other and stand together in firm opposition to any efforts to sanitize, rewrite or bulldoze our history.

Here in South Carolina, there has never been a time when our nation’s motto was more needed than it is today: e pluribus unum: “out of many, one.” If those of us alive today can find a way to understand and respect and forgive each other, only then can we truly pay honor to the martyrs who were slain last week while they prayed together in a house of worship.

“In the aftermath of the horrific tragedy that spilled the blood of nine souls within the hallowed halls of Mother Emanuel AME Church, the time has come to revisit the issue of the Confederate soldier’s flag, which a number of our citizens regard as offensive,” he wrote. “Many other citizens regard the old soldier’s banner as a fitting memorial to the Confederate dead. However, on State House grounds, we should seek to respect the views of all citizens as best we reasonably can.”

He also called for the historic monuments, cemeteries, historic street and building names to be preserved and protected.

McConnell has deflected requests for comment since the arrest of Dylann Roof, a white man with a penchant for Confederate iconography, accused of killing nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church.

His statement Thursday comes one day after the College of Charleston Board of Trustees issued a resolution supporting the rebel banner’s removal. McConnell, who isn’t a voting member, attended the meeting but was noticeably silent.

A longtime defender of Confederate heritage, the former state senator brokered a legislative compromise in 2000 moving the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse dome to its current position beside the Confederate Soldier Monument, which sits at the walkway leading to the Capitol building’s steps. A Civil War re-enactor and longtime member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, McConnell once owned a Confederate souvenir shop in North Charleston.

The flag debate has taken on a personal tone at the college, which sits just blocks from Emanuel AME Church. One of the college’s employees, part-time librarian Cynthia Hurd, was one of the nine churchgoers killed in the shooting, and Roof reportedly told police that he considered targeting the school.

In a news conference in Columbia, the Sons of Confederate Veterans vowed on Thursday to fight any attempt to take the flag down without saying how they would do that.

Leland Summers, commander of the South Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, declined to comment Thursday on McConnell’s statement. Summers and about two dozen members of the organization gathered by the Statehouse monument to issue a statement on the calls to remove the banner.

Summers said in a prepared speech that Roof is a “wicked nutcase.” Because of the behavior of “one warped mind,” “unscrupulous opportunists” are creating more hatred and division by attacking and removing Confederate symbols and flags, Summers said.

“That flag did not start a race war,” he said. “An idiot pulling the trigger on nine innocent people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, started this. That flag had absolutely nothing to do with it.”

The South Carolina division of the organization has more than 3,000 members and seeks to “serve as a historical, patriotic, and non-political organization dedicated to ensuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved,” according to its website.

Summers said the organization intends to take action if lawmakers follow through with trying to remove the flag from Statehouse grounds, but declined to elaborate, saying it would wait until next week out of respect for the victims.

Nevertheless, Summer and other members of the group criticized lawmakers who have called for the battle flag’s removal.

He said the politicians are making knee-jerk decisions, while Dickie Phalen, another member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, called them “spineless.”

Phalen said he understands the battle flag offends some South Carolinians, while adding it is not a symbol of slavery and that his group abhors the Ku Klux Klan and racism.

“It’s not about race,” Phalen said. “I’ve got a lot of black friends. This is my heritage. If that flag comes down, this whole nation is going to change because that’s discrimination.”

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.