At Statehouse rally, 1,000 call for removal of Confederate battle flag

At least 1,000 people attended a rally in Columbia calling on the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds.

COLUMBIA — The heat of the state’s “Famously Hot” capital did not deter at least 1,000 people who gathered on the Statehouse’s grounds to call for the Confederate battle flag to be taken down.

Saturday’s rally came on the heels of the mass killing Wednesday night at a historic black church in Charleston in which a young gunman — an apparent white supremacist — allegedly shot and killed nine African-Americans attending a prayer meeting.

Since the shooting, officials discovered a website that has several pictures of 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof posing with the battle flag and burning Old Glory. Also, in a picture released during the hours after the shooting, Roof poses before his car that had a “Confederate States of America” vanity plate.

The shooting and the findings have led to a nationwide call for South Carolina to take the flag off the Statehouse grounds. During Saturday’s rally, 95-year-old Sarah Leverette said she had seen much during her time, and now hoped to see the retirement of the Confederate battle flag to a museum.

“I don’t know of an instance that is more important than the one we just had,” said Leverette, a Columbia resident. “We can no longer afford to let that flag sit up there flying and be a drawing cause for these people who already have what I call bad opinions, strange opinions.”

Gov. Nikki Haley does not have the authority to remove the flag from the grounds. A two-thirds vote by both chambers of the General Assembly is needed to tamper with any of the monuments that are part of the Statehouse complex. That includes the battle flag, which flies as part of the Confederate Soldier Monument that commemorates those who died during the Civil War.

For that reason, Lonnie Randolph, president of the state conference of the NAACP, called on the crowd to participate in the 2016 election, noting that “something ain’t right” with the low voter participation rates of the state.

“I want you to continue your support because 507 days from now, we’re going to have another election in this state and in this country,” Randolph said. “We don’t have to come out here on days over 100 degrees when you vote right. Leave here committed that you’re going to do something for the cause of freedom, justice and equality.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.