Shocked by a young white supremacist’s mass murder of nine members of a Charleston, S.C., historic black church last week, South Carolina’s Republican governor Nikki Haley announced Monday afternoon a bipartisan call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State Capitol.
In a remarkable turnabout by the state’s political establishment, which for decades kept the racially divisive flag displayed prominently at the state Capitol in Columbia, Haley and a powerful bipartisan group of state and congressional lawmakers declared their commitment to forcing the state legislature to remove the flag before the end of the summer.
Haley, the first woman and the first minority to serve as the state’s governor, said that for generations, the Confederate flag has sorely divided the state. The flag has long been a symbol of South Carolina’s rebellious history dating back to the Civil War and of its modern-era resistance to civil rights.
“For many people in our state the flag stands for traditions that are noble – traditions of history, of heritage and of ancestry,” Haley said at a crowded news conference. “At the same time, for many others In South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
“Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state – without ill will – to say it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” the governor said amid cheers.
“One hundred-fifty years after the end of the civil war the time has come,” she added. “My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us we can move forward in harmony.”
Haley was joined by dozens of Republican and House state officials, including Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, an announced candidate for president, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the first black Republican elected to the United States Senate since the defeat of Edward Brooke in 1979. Rep. James Clyburn, a member of the House Democratic leadership and long-time champion of removing the flag, and Charleston’s long-time Mayor Joseph Riley attended the announcement.
She said she expects the state legislature to act on the request this summer or she will call them into a special session for that purpose.
A national outpouring of grief and anger had put enormous pressure on state officials to remove the flag from its prominent position in front of the Capitol.
Dylann Roof on Wednesday night murdered the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a highly regarded state senator, and eight of his parishioners at a bible study session. Roof opened fire with a semi-automatic .45-caliber Glock-model gun and killed the nine victims after showing up at the church unexpectedly and sitting through a bible study class. Before the killings, Roof had posted a racist manifesto targeting blacks, Jews and Hispanics on his white-supremacist Website. Among 60 photos that Roof had posted on the site was one showing him holding a Confederate flag and a gun.
Some have noted that it would be outrageous to have the flag flying on Wednesday when Pinckney’s body is scheduled to lie in state at the Capitol. President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and other national dignitaries are expected to attend the funeral in Columbia, S.C.
“We should not go another week with that symbol of hate that was adored by the man who killed them to sit in front of the people’s house,” said Nelson Rivers III, a National Action Network and NAACP official in calling for the removal of the flag.
During the news conference, Haley said that while Roof had hoped to touch off a race riot by executing nine innocent members of a church, he had failed miserably as the community and the state have come together with love and forgiveness. As for his waving of the Confederate flag before launching his bloody assault, she said, “The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag.”
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