Thousands told Haley: Get rid of flag Over 10,000 emails to governor in Emanuel’s wake reveal emotions on both sides of debate

S.C. State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott attend a prayer vigil at Morris Brown AME Church for the victims of the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church a day after the June 17, 2015 attack.

COLUMBIA — In the days after the Emanuel AME Church shooting, Gov. Nikki Haley was inundated with thousands of emails from people around the country expressing everything from outrage to sympathy in beseeching her to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.

“The world is watching,” an Asheville, N.C., writer said.

Early on, only an occasional writer supported flying the flag, calling it a symbol of heritage. Others, however, offered cutting, racially charged comments.

“Go ahead and take the Confederate Flag down ... because that will make White people Hate Blacks that much more,” a Boiling Springs writer wrote to the governor.

He ended by warning Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, “You need to take all of those Blacks back to India with you.”

The comments are among a string of correspondence Haley’s office received last summer in the wake of the Emanuel AME Church killings and subsequent debate over the flag.

The more than 10,000 emails — some from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska — were released Wednesday after The Post and Courier and several other media outlets requested the documents through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The emails, along with handwritten letters, were turned over in boxes at the Statehouse.

White and black writers alike mostly described seeing the flag as a racist symbol and expressed outrage over the fact it was still flying.

Several also asked Haley to put the question to voters.

“I am a Caucasian daughter of a Klansman!” a woman from Louisiana wrote. “I KNOW what that flag means to white supremacists and to be honest, so do you. Stop the charade. Take it down NOW.”

The emails shed little new light on the Emanuel AME shooting investigation or Haley’s actions immediately afterward. Instead, they focus almost exclusively on the flag debate.

They do reveal concerns about potentially violent marches to protest the flag. On July 3, two weeks after the shooting, a state emergency management official wrote to his staff that Mike Kalec, Richland County emergency preparedness manager, had voiced the concerns. Kalec “reported local intelligence is indicating that there is the likelyhood (sic) of two different marches to protest the Confederate flag at the state capitol, one sponsored by the NAACP and the other Million Man March (being advertised as the next Ferguson). There has also been reports of potential gang participation within these marches,” the emails said.

Ultimately, neither group held a march in Richland County.

The documents include few emails between Haley and her staff, investigators or lawmakers. However, one email from Laurens Republican Rep. Mike Pitts, who opposed lowering the flag, told a Haley staffer why he wouldn’t be attending the July 10 furling ceremony.

“Since the area is now an illegal gun free zone and I have received threats I will not be attending,” Pitts wrote.

In an exchange on July 1, before lawmakers debated the flag’s fate, Haley aides asked the Confederate Relic Room’s director to estimate the cost of furling and displaying it. The response: $1 million. That figure has ballooned to $3.6 million today, which includes museum improvements.

Other emails show Haley’s staff telling state employees to stop saying, “It’s a great day in South Carolina!” for nine days after the massacre, which left nine black worshippers dead.

The greeting had previously been pushed by Haley for use across state government.

In the immediate aftermath of the Emanuel killings, Haley reportedly received intense pressure from several key business leaders to remove the flag. After her call to do so, Leighton Lord, board chairman of Santee Cooper, compiled supporting comments from businesses across the state including BenefitFocus, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Boeing Co., Michelin and the S.C. Ports Authority.

Lord told The Post and Courier on Wednesday that he compiled the comments for a full-page ad showing business backing the flag’s removal. The ad ran the week state lawmakers were set to debate the flag’s future.

At least one corporate engineering firm CEO, whose name is redacted in the documents, contacted Haley directly and urged her to remove the flag on behalf of the writer’s 25,000 employees across the globe.

“It will bring us one step closer to having people unite as one America under our shared flag,” the writer said.

The rebel emblem became a symbol of national derision after admitted Emanuel shooter, Dylann Roof, was seen in posted pictures holding a Confederate flag before killing pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney along with eight others with the goal of starting a race war, authorities have said.

During the sensitive weeks in the aftermath of the shooting, Haley’s office fielded scores of messages from constituents, clergy and political figures. The day after the shooting, in fact, some emails blamed the governor for being complicit in the killings. “Perhaps you should reflect on the ugly implications of flying the Confederate flag in the state capital,” a California woman wrote. “What a disgusting, nasty government you head up.”

Lost on many of the letter-writers was the fact that Haley had no unilateral power to take the flag down on her own accord. She did urge lawmakers to vote to remove the flag from Statehouse grounds during a June 22 press conference last year. The rebel flag had flown at the Statehouse complex for more than 50 years. It was first placed atop the dome in the 1960s to commemorate the Civil War centennial, but also as a show of defiance to integration and the civil rights movement.

“This is a moment in which we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” Haley said during that press conference.

The emails released Wednesday do not include in-depth responses from Haley or show how she managed the debate. Her office said the governor talked by phone and met face-to-face with staff and state leaders, including law enforcement, during the aftermath of the shooting and flag removal discussion.

After Haley’s call for unity in bringing the flag down, emails from flag supporters increased. “‘WE MUST KEEP THE FLAG’ and not bow down to the pressure of one fool’s mistake,” a writer from Illinois wrote. On July 6, the day of the Senate’s first vote on the banner, emails ran at times 2-to-1 against taking it down.

“You will be remembered as a turncoat Republican who turned her back on her supporters in their time of need,” a Williamston resident wrote, adding he had supported her throughout her career.

Others, however, said they wouldn’t visit the state with the flag still flying.

“I just cancelled my vacation for two weeks to Hilton Head,” a North Carolina man wrote. “Get rid of the rebel flag in your stupid state. Hope a hurricane hits this summer.”

A Pennsylvania man added in his note, “I shall NOT return to your state as long as the Confederate flag flies on the grounds of the state capitol complex! While your words yesterday seemed compassionate your deeds say different.”

Haley wasn’t the only one who felt pressure. The letters and emails show lawmakers feared what removing the flag would mean to their political futures. Republican Rep. Rick Quinn of Lexington asked whether Haley would come to lawmakers’ aide later if needed.

“The votes will have consequences,” he wrote, adding he hoped the governor would “give substantive support to those of us who answered her call.”

The flag came down permanently July 10.

Reporters Andy Shain, Maya T. Prabhu and Gavin Jackson contributed to this report.