A bipartisan group of local politician joined activists and religious leaders Monday in calling for state lawmakers to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds after the death of nine people at a downtown Charleston church.
The officials said it was time to take down to the flag in light of accused killer Dylann Roof’s racially motivated attack Wednesday on Emanuel AME Church.
“It’s a historical flag, a piece of history, and it belongs in a history museum,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said during the news conference in North Charleston. “The Confederate battle flag years ago was appropriated as a symbol of hate. Remove this flag ... Take away Mr. Roofs’ symbol, the misguided symbol of racial superiority and bigotry.”
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, a Republican, stood near NAACP Charleston chapter President Dot Scott in joining the chorus of leaders making the call. Five years ago, during a controversy over a group’s attempt to locate a Confederate memorial in North Charleston, Summey called Scott a “nut” whom he didn’t want to deal with.
But on Monday, Summey said the flag sent a message that state leaders are OK with the things it symbolizes.
“We have an opportunity to start a dialog that will bring all of us into a better life,” he said.
Summey’s son, Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey, also stood with the group.
“We wanted to wait until things died down,” Elliott Summey said. “But what better way to honor those nine people who died?”
After the news conference, the Rev. Nelson Rivers of Charity Missionary Baptist Church said the group sent a “very strong message.” Rivers, vice president of external affairs at the National Action Network, helped organize Monday’s event after getting calls from several area lawmakers wanting to speak, he said.
“It extended across party lines, across racial backgrounds,” he said. “We believe it’s the first time that a voice so diverse has come out so strong on this issue. We think it has a great chance of getting that flag removed.”
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said it would take a two-thirds vote for the General Assembly to take up the issue during a session Tuesday meant for budgeting issues.
“I have placed a call to the leadership of the Senate and served notice that there is a growing chorus of senators that are interested in dealing with this issue before we leave session,” Kimpson said. “We welcome (Gov. Nikki Haley’s) leadership on this issue. She is a powerful voice... but as we move forward tomorrow and the next few weeks... it’s the General Assembly who has the power to bring this matter forward for official business.”
Lowering the flag would help tackle the division that has become apparent through the acts allegedly committed by a young white man on a group of black churchgoers, Kimpson said. It would help South Carolina move into the 21st century, he said.
“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.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede. Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.