COLUMBIA — Nineteen days after a white gunman killed the pastor and eight parishioners at Charleston’s historic black Emanuel AME Church, South Carolina’s Senate voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds.
For a tally of the votes on Confederate flag issues, go to postandcourier.com/flag-votes.
POLL: Based on Monday’s events, do you think the Legislature will decide to remove the Confederate battle flag from the S.C. Statehouse grounds? Go to postandcourier.com/polls to vote.
The 37-3 vote on second reading Monday easily surpassed the two-thirds majority needed during a third and final vote that would send the measure to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
With Gov. Nikki Haley on the record saying the flag needs to come down, a two-thirds vote in the House would consign the battle flag, which has flown from a 30-foot pole as part of a Confederate Soldier Monument in front of the Statehouse steps since 2000, to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. The vote followed weeks of protests and growing demands by politicians, civil rights activists, community leaders and businesses to “Take It Down,” saying it symbolized the racism that allegedly led to the mass killing at the church.
“That issue had to be resolved,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who voted to remove it. “It had been festering for a long, long time.”
Haley lauded the Senate’s fast response in a written statement.
“The South Carolina Senate today rose to this historic occasion, with a large majority of members from both parties coming together in the spirit of unity and healing that is binding our state back together and moving us forward in the right direction,” Haley said. “I applaud the Senate’s decisive action, look forward to the Senate giving the bill third reading in the morning, and ask that the House act swiftly and follow the Senate’s lead.”
Voting against the removal were Sens. Lee Bright, Danny Verdin, and Harvey Peeler, all Upstate Republicans.
“To remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds and thinking it would change history would be like removing a tattoo from the corpse of a loved one and thinking that would change a loved one’s obituary,” said Peeler, the Senate majority leader, during the often emotional debate preceding the vote.
Afterward, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who watched from the gallery, said the vote to remove the flag boosts the legacy of Haley and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. Riley has long advocated removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, while Haley reversed her position after the killings. Among those slain was state Sen. and pastor Clementa Pinckney, with whom Haley served in the Legislature.
The measure seeks to undo a compromise that moved the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol dome to the monument 15 years ago. The flag was placed atop the dome in the early 1960s for the Civil War centennial and, according to accounts at the time, as a show of the state’s defiance to integration and the civil rights movement.
The measure could be signed into law by the end of the week if it makes it through the House without changes. Debate in the House will likely take place on Wednesday, if lawmakers can bypass the committee process, said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia.
However, there are several proposals floating around in the House, including replacing the battle flag with Bonnie Blue or even flying the flag on the grounds of the state museum, which houses the Confederate Relic Room. The amendments will make for more nail-biting moments for flag opponents in the House, Smith said.
For many, the flag represents the South’s heritage and the bravery of the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy, leading to resistance on efforts to have it removed from the dome and now the monument. Yet, demands to take it down intensified after the nine churchgoers were slain during Bible study. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old Midlands man who often posed in pictures with the rebel flag, has been charged with murder in the killings. According to authorities, Roof, an avowed white supremacist, wanted to start a race war.
Pinckney’s Senate seatmate, Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, lamented that nine people had to die for the state to tackle the issue of the flag, but said he was glad the state was at least making progress. Sheheen called for the flag’s removal in October, during his failed gubernatorial challenge against Haley.
At the time the flag was moved from the dome to the monument, legislators included a clause requiring a two-thirds vote to do anything with any of the Statehouse’s monuments, including the flag. While the measure could run into resistance in the House, a poll of the state’s lawmakers by the Post and Courier indicates it has enough support to pass the House by the required margin.
Earlier, protesters on both sides of the flag debate gathered again outside the Statehouse under the watchful eye of a large than normal police and security presence.
William Cheek, of Ninety-Six, was among a dozen people holding Confederate flags in a show of support for keeping the flag in place.
“I’m standing up for what’s right,” he said, calling the flag a symbol of history, heritage, honor and love. “My forefathers fought under this flag,” he said. “They had every right to.”
Rev. Nelson Rivers III of the National Action Network, said the great wrong in the debate is that it took the deaths of nine people at Emanuel AME Church for the flag issue to come to a head.
“It shouldn’t have taken the blood of Clementa and eight other people to get the state and the General Assembly to do what they should have done 15 years ago,” he said.
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.
Members of the state Senate during the debate for the removal of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House in Columbia. The Senate voted 37-3 on Monday to remove the flag from the grounds of the State House.×
Brodrick Hall (center), of Savannah, GA and Anderson, S.C. residents Wayne Whitfield (left) and Randy Sexon discuss their differences over the Confederate flag during demonstrations in front of the South Carolina Capitol Monday.×
The state president for the National Action Network James Johnson, right, calls for the immediate removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia Monday.×