South Carolina Gov. Signs Law to Remove Confederate Flag; Signing Pens to Go to Church Shooting Victims’ Families

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Governor Nikki Haley signs law to take down Confederate Flag (photo via ktla.com)

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a historic bill Thursday that will remove the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol grounds, where it has been a source of friction for more than half a century.

Haley’s signature ends the fighting over the flag, seen as an emblem of Southern heritage by some but condemned as a symbol of racial oppression by others.

The flag flew over the dome of South Carolina’s Capitol in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the war — and stayed as a protest to the civil rights movement that shattered Jim Crow segregationist laws across the South. After protests from civil rights leaders, the battle flag was moved in 2000 from the dome to its current location on the Capitol’s front lawn.

Haley said the flag will “come down with dignity” at 10 a.m. Eastern time Friday. The banner will be taken to the state’s Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum for display.

“The Confederate flag is coming off the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse,” Haley told the overflow crowd. “We will bring it down with dignity and we will make sure it is stored in its rightful place.”

Haley had called for removal of the flag in the wake of the June 17 massacre of nine black parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston. A white man, Dylann Roof, who had apparently espoused racist ideologies and who had been photographed with Confederate symbols, is being held on nine murder counts and other charges.

Relatives of those slain at the church were among those in the racially diverse crowd who watched the governor use several pens to sign the legislation, whose passage was all but impossible before the church shootings. The governor praised the dead for changing the debate about the flag and race relations.  “These nine pens are going to the families of the Emanuel Nine,” Haley said after signing the bill into law. “Nine amazing individuals who have forever changed South Carolina history.

The shooting galvanized the nation, leading to debate about what the Confederate symbols represent. Are they revered memories of Southern heritage? Or symbols of oppression and hate?

The debate reached Washington, where Republicans on Thursday abruptly scrapped plans for a vote to permit the display of Confederate flags at National Park Service-run cemeteries. Democrats had condemned the GOP move to allow the Confederate symbols.

Into the early morning hours Thursday, the South Carolina House was locked in debate over whether to take down the flag. The final vote came after an impassioned speech by Rep. Jenny Horne, a white lawyer who counts as an ancestor Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America.

“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage,” Horne, 42, told her colleagues. “Remove this flag and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age.”

Don Doyle, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, characterized the vote as “the new heritage of South Carolina.”

“That flag has been up over half a century and now all, of a sudden, it seems like a storm came through that changed everything,” Doyle said. “It does seem like right now, at this moment, in South Carolina and the South people are feeling a courage to stand up for the best values of America and not let a small angry minority define Southern heritage and to link Southern heritage to this lost cause of slavery and secession.”

“It’s a tremendously important, symbolic gesture,” said Ann Marie Stieritz, 46, president of the South Carolina Council of Competitiveness, who walked to the Capitol from her office Wednesday morning to snap photos of the flag before it came down.

Her business group had campaigned for taking down the flag, yet she said the hard work is now ahead. “We’re only just starting our conversations and I would like to see us move from talking about the flag to talking about economic development, poverty and education.”

“Democrats don’t get many wins in South Carolina,” said Tyler Jones, a political director with the Democratic House caucus. “Republicans tried every trick in the book to sabotage this, but today was a rare victory.”

Looking forward, Jones said the Democratic caucus had no long-term plans to call for the removal of other Confederate and Jim Crow-era symbols on the Statehouse grounds.

“We are not on a rampage to take down statues and monuments,” Jones said. “That flag was just a symbol of hatred and needed to come down.”

Doyle singled out Rep. Horne’s speech, in particular, as overcoming the last vestiges of Republican resistance. “She returned the debate to a very Southern, personal and religious way of dealing with emotion.”

Jones credited Rep. Horn’s emotional speech as shifting the mood in the House late Wednesday night and persuading more Republicans to pass the bill. “I think at that point folks said, ‘Let’s get out of the way.’”

The governor has not yet explained the details of the flag removal. Some have suggested that cadets from South Carolina’s military college, The Citadel, lower the flag and deliver it to the Relic Room, several blocks east of the statehouse in downtown Columbia. Haley’s office, however, would not confirm that.

Overnight, the backlash on social media was swift, with more than a thousand people flocking to Haley’s Facebook page to condemn the action.

“What YOU have done is a disgrace to the south and its heritage,” wrote Dianne J. Thompson, who noted she had ancestors who fought in the Civil War.

“Stripping a flag from a veterans memorial is WRONG,” wrote another commenter, Trevor Benson.

A small group of Republicans had launched a last-ditch attempt to stall and derail the bill to take down the flag, proposing 70 amendments. The Senate had dealt with only three amendments before passing the bill Tuesday by a 36-3 vote.

Yet a larger, bipartisan group of legislators consistently voted down their amendments amid a charged and emotional debate about the symbolism of the flag, the nature of the Civil War, and the state’s history of slavery and racism.

While many legislators argued the flag was a symbol of slavery—one that was deeply offensive to the state’s African American residents— others view it as a symbol of Southern heritage.

Republican Rep. Michael A. Pitts, a retired police officer representing conservative Laurens County, proposed dozens of amendments to slow or derail passage of the flag bill. Among other things, he suggested removing all monuments and memorials from the statehouse grounds, and holding a statewide referendum on the flag issue.

Pitts downplayed slavery as the reason his ancestors fought under the Confederate flag during the Civil War.  “They went to defend their home state, the state of South Carolina,” Pitts told the House. “They had nothing to gain by it except dying to defend their state. That’s all they knew they were fighting for.… I grew up holding that flag in reverence because of the stories of my ancestors carrying that flag in battle.”

The House repeatedly and overwhelmingly declined to adopt Pitts’ amendments.

article by Jenny Jarvie via latimes.com

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