The Senate’s overwhelming vote on Monday to furl the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds was an important act of reconciliation for South Carolina, made more notable by the heartfelt spirit in which the action was taken.
The 37-3 vote was an overdue recognition that the battle flag is a symbol of division that should no longer be flying at the state’s seat of government.
In view of past legislative battles over the flag, the Senate vote was a stunning response to Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to bring down the flag in the wake of the racially motivated shooting that left nine dead at Emanuel AME Church.
“What happened a couple of weeks ago opened the eyes of many people in South Carolina and many people in this chamber,” said Sen. Vince Sheheen, D-Kershaw.
By their own comments, it was clear that the Senate majority was guided by their deep admiration for Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, who was among those killed at the Charleston church on June 17.
And the sudden turnaround was further inspired by the family members of those slain, who expressed their forgiveness of the accused killer in the Christian spirit of Rev. Pinckney’s ministry.
Many in South Carolina — including some members of the Senate — revere the battle flag under which their ancestors gallantly fought against overwhelming odds.
But for others, the flag has bleak associations: slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation.
And while the flag might have been raised over the Statehouse 53 years ago to mark the centennial of the Civil War, it also represented the opposition of state leaders to civil rights.
“It’s part of our history,” said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens. “It isn’t part of our future.”
Thankfully, the Senate didn’t try to pass the controversy to the voters. It overwhelmingly rejected an amendment from Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, for a non-binding statewide referendum on the flag issue.
Nor would the Senate permit another less controversial Confederate banner to fly at the Confederate monument.
The historical argument for keeping the flag there was countered by Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, who invoked Confederate Gens. Wade Hampton and Robert E. Lee, both of whom said that their banners should be furled following the Civil War.
Senators who were present for the hard-fought compromise that brought the flag down from the Statehouse dome in 2000 acknowledged that was no longer adequate.
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, rightly called the vote one of the most historic in memory. In his remarks, Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, spoke movingly of Sen. Pinckney’s deep faith and of his creed that it is every individual’s duty in life to make a positive difference.
His Senate colleagues did so on Monday.
The House of Representatives should follow the Senate’s lead and complete the historic resolution of the flag controversy this week.