Confederate re-enactors acknowledge flag is likely to come down

Confederate re-enactors raise the rebel flag on the SC Statehouse grounds in 2000.

Confederate re-enactors are prepping for the likely removal of the battle flag from the Statehouse grounds next week and the realization they won’t be allowed to take part in a lowering ceremony.

“We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that we’re pretty certain it’s coming down,” said Randy Burbage, a Charleston-area leader in the re-enactor community.

“We’re just hoping to have some options on where it ends up.”

Burbage’s comments came as several ranking political figures, including Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, state Sen. Chip Campsen and state Rep. Rick Quinn, visited the Confederate Relic Room in Columbia on Thursday with representatives of Confederate heritage groups to discuss display plans there.

Quinn, R-Columbia, said the goal was to find the best way to honor the ancestors of present-day South Carolinians who took part in the Civil War.

A spokesman for McMaster said he made the visit because he will oversee the flag debate next week and wanted to be up on an event that will draw the eyes of the state and world.

Legislators will re-convene in Columbia on Monday to take up the governor’s vetoes, but will also address removing the flag from the Confederate Soldier’s Monument where it has flown by way of legislative compromise since 2000. Only lawmakers control if it should come down permanently.

Depending on Statehouse action, the flag could be taken away as soon as Thursday, but hinges on how the final bill is crafted for Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature. A likely option is making removal possible the moment the governor inks the bill if she finds it satisfactory.

Legislation offered by state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, says that upon its removal, “the flag shall be transported to the Confederate Relic Room for appropriate display.” The Relic Room is on Gervais Street and shares a building with the S.C. State Museum.

There have been no plans for a removal ceremony like what drew re-enactors to the flag raising in 2000.

The rebel banner became a political priority following the June 17 murders of nine people as they worshiped at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. All nine victims were black, while accused shooter Dylann Roof, 21, is white.

Roof allegedly made racial references during the attack and appears in Internet photographs brandishing the rebel flag.

How next week’s debate plays out is still uncertain. Laurens Republican Rep. Mike Pitts said Thursday that he intends to push for an amendment that would replace the battle flag with a different banner that has not been adopted by hate groups but still represents Southern heritage.

“If that flag offends (black lawmakers) then I’m willing to remove that flag,” Pitts said. “If the flag is the issue then let’s compromise. Let’s replace it with one that does honor heritage but does not have racial overtones to it.”

He proposed the “Bonnie Blue,” the flag first used by the Republic of West Florida and that Mississippi used when it seceded from the Union. Pitts added that if the problem some have is solely with the Confederate battle flag, then his colleagues should be able to strike a compromise with lawmakers who feel it represents their heritage.

But House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said there is no common ground.

“We have tolerated the heritage message all of this time because we were powerless to do anything about it,” Rutherford said. “The heritage is: this flag was created when black people were in chains. This flag was put up on top of the Statehouse in 1962 at the height of the civil rights movement. The heritage is about slavery and racism and bigotry. That’s it.”

Meanwhile, various groups have signed up for assembly space on the Statehouse grounds next week ahead of Monday’s return of the Legislature.

The S.C. Branch of the NAACP has signed up for Monday from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Tuesday from noon to 1:30 p.m. A group listed as the Palmetto Riflemen and New York Zouves — a Civil War living history group that’s headquartered in Chapin — has signed up for space next Friday.

Re-enactor Kenneth Robinson II said the Friday appearance was not timed to be in Columbia for the flag removal possibility, but was more to make sure flag supporters are represented in terms of honoring those who served and died during the Civil War.

“We just wanted to draw attention to show it’s not about the flag,” he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.