COLUMBIA — The last Confederate flag flown on Statehouse grounds will be on display at South Carolina's military history museum within the next few months, though exactly where remains uncertain.
After three years of wrangling over exhibit costs and space, Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum Director Allen Roberson decided to simply hang it up.
The state law legislators passed to take down the flag in the wake of the June 2015 Charleston church mass shooting required displaying it at the museum.
There will be no grand exhibit or renovation. The Legislature has rejected proposals ranging from $350,000 to $3.6 million while the banner remained in storage. The state budget that took effect July 1 again included no money for a flag display.
"We'll frame it and put it up," Roberson told The Post and Courier on Thursday. "Even if it's not funded, we're still mandated to do it, and we need to go ahead and do it.
"It's time to move on," he added.
He's still unsure where he will put the flag because the tiny museum's walls are covered with artifacts from every war South Carolinians have fought.
Legislators approved bringing it down, after five decades on Statehouse grounds, following the massacre of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church. The gunman, an avowed white supremacist who was sentenced to death last year, posted photos of himself with the Civil War banner.
The square battle flag had flown on a 30-foot pole beside the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the Statehouse's front lawn since a 2000 compromise removed the larger, rectangular version from the Statehouse dome.
The Confederate Relic Room, located in the same building as the South Carolina State Museum, never asked for the flag. The law, signed by then-Gov. Nikki Haley in July 2015, sent it to the 122-year-old public museum.
A separate measure directed Roberson to estimate costs for the flag’s "appropriate, permanent, and public display."
The flag has been stored in a white acid-free box at the museum ever since.
The museum's first request, for $3.6 million, incorporated the flag display in a larger expansion and conservation project. Legislators dismissed that price tag from the outset.
Earlier this year, the museum's board approved a $350,000 plan to convert existing office space to exhibit both the first and last flags flown on the 30-foot pole, which the 2015 law also removed.
The state Senate put the $350,000 request in its budget proposal, but it didn't survive negotiations with the House.
"We've tried everything we can to come up with reasonable approach," Roberson said. "I cannot overemphasize how much we are out of room here. We've been wrestling for months with space problems."
But in hindsight, he said, he realizes the museum's first request shouldn't have coupled the flag display with its expansion needs.
James Bessenger, founder of the S.C. Secessionist Party, faults the museum for not getting any money for the display.
"They had an opportunity when they first started to ask for a reasonable budget. They squandered their opportunity," said Bessenger, whose group holds a rally every July to temporarily put the flag back up at the Statehouse using a collapsible pole.
Bessenger is not sure what a display should look like, but he didn't like the sound of simply framing the flag.
"If it's just slapping it in a frame and putting a placard on it, that's not what we were promised," he said.