Governor Nikki Haley, along with other top South Carolina lawmakers, called on the state legislature Monday to remove the Confederate Battle flag from the grounds of the State House.
Haley made the announcement Monday afternoon inside the State House, flanked by a bipartisan group that included U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, as well as former governor, and now Congressman Mark Sanford and Congressman Jim Clyburn.
“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” said Haley, a statement that was met with nearly 40 seconds of applause throughout the capitol. “One hundred fifty years after the end of the Civil War the time has come.”
Any removal of the flag would require approval by at least two-thirds of state legislators — first to even take up the issue in special summer session and again to change a 2000 law that moved the flag from the Statehouse dome to its grounds. Haley on Monday threatened to order the legislature back into session if they do not take up the bill before adjourning for good this year.
While acknowledging that for some, the flag represents “respect, integrity, and duty,” Haley said, for others, it’s an offensive symbol of a “brutally oppressive” past.
“As a state, we can survive, and indeed we can thrive, as we have done, while still being home to both of those viewpoints,” Haley continued. “We do not need to declare a winner and a loser. We respect freedom of expression, and for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.”
There’s been a growing call for the removal of the banner since the massacre of nine people inside Mother Memorial AME Church in Charleston last week. All of the victims were African-American, and the suspected shooter 21-year-old Dylann Roof has posted online espousing white supremacist views.
Practically any legislators who have commented on the issue publicly since the shooting have been in favor of its removal. But there are some who say it should stay, or that more time should elapse before the General Assembly acts.
“The (Ku Klux) Klan has used crosses since its inception, but I don’t see people taking crosses off of churches,” State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, told South Carolina Radio Network, saying he believes the issue has politicized the nine victims’ deaths. “People misuse symbols and I’m upset that people misused the Confederate flag. Our ancestors fought and died under that flag defending their homes.”
State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, said he thinks the issue should be taken up in January if it at all. “There should be some time distance put between the emotional situation the state finds itself in and rational debate.” He said there could also be ill feelings over changing the 2000 agreement reached after years of debate.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans says they will fight any attempt to move the flag. The group’s South Carolina division commander has not responded to interview requests, however.
Among the dead was State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, the pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church and a legislator representing the Lowcountry at the time of his murder.