The state Legislature took a welcome, decisive step on Tuesday toward furling the Confederate flag that has flown at a Statehouse monument for the last 15 years. Doing so would be a fitting way to help move South Carolina forward in the wake of the mass murder at Emanuel AME Church last Wednesday.
Both House and Senate agreed to take up the issue when the chambers are called back into session by the leadership, possibly as early as next week.
The regular session is over, with only votes on budget vetoes left on the agenda for the legislative year.
The lopsided House margin of 103-10 signaled its interest in resolving the controversy, which has grown despite a compromise in 2000 that brought the flag off the Statehouse dome, where it had flown since 1962, to its present location.
In the Senate, there was stated opposition by a few members to furling the flag, but it was muted by the tragedy, and because of their great regard for their fallen colleague, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was among those killed. Rev. Pinckney was pastor at Emanuel and had served as a Democratic state senator since 2000.
A white supremacist has been charged with the murders. Photos of him on the Internet show him with the Confederate flag and holding a handgun.
Both House and Senate members spoke movingly of Sen. Pinckney, who also had served in the House. His legislative colleagues, Democrat and Republican, were clearly stricken by the tragedy.
Nevertheless, the continued opposition of several senators raises the possibility of obstruction when the Senate reconvenes on the issue.
Sen. Larry Martin, however, says the bill doesn’t need to be addressed by the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, but can go directly to the floor for Senate consideration and a vote.
That should enable the Senate to deal expeditiously with the flag issue. As Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said on Tuesday, “Don’t let this thing fester.”
Sen. Martin, R-Pickens, acknowledged the value that some of his colleagues place upon the Confederate flag as part of their heritage as South Carolinians. But he said flag advocates need to approach the issue “from the perspective of our minority brothers” who want the flag taken down.
Sentiment for furling the flag has grown stronger among black and white South Carolinians since the slayings last week. And a Post and Courier poll shows growing legislative support as well.
Even so, it is unlikely that the flag issue would have advanced to a likely resolution without Gov. Nikki Haley’s leadership. She took up the issue at a critical time, recognizing that it needed to be addressed, and gained broad support among state leaders to do so. She also told legislators on Monday that she was willing to use her executive authority to force them to come back to Columbia this summer to deal with the matter.
The General Assembly now has the opportunity to resolve an issue that has long divided South Carolinians.
Doing so would be a tribute to the nine people killed at Emanuel AME Church.
And the lawmakers’ beloved colleague, who was himself a voice of legislative moderation and wisdom, would surely approve.