A bill at the top of the Senate agenda would remove the flag located behind the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the Capitol grounds and instead retire it to the state Confederate Relic Room and Museum.
There has been overwhelming support from legislators to this point, even as South Carolina’s citizens remain divided. Indeed, the General Assembly is taking an unprecedented step by addressing the flag during a special summer session.
Supporters are hoping the bill heads to the governor by the end of the week, but they warn that is a best-case scenario. “People have got realize that we are bound by a constitutional process,” State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg said, although he supports removing the flag. “There’s just not a way under the current rules, and under our (state) Constitution, really that it could be done any quicker than by Thursday.”
And that Thursday date is optimistic, only happening if opponents agree not to throw up any procedural roadblocks. However, State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, said he intends to file several amendments to the bill in an effort to force debate on what he considers a one-sided assault on the state’s history.
“I think it’s impossible to have this debate without discussing the fact that all of our ancestors for the most part had this racial superiority view in those times which we’ve proven to be wrong today,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. Bright said last week he has no plans to filibuster, although the Charleston Post & Courier reports the Senate has enough votes to sit him down should he try.
Hutto said he expects a lengthy debate. “I think this is a big enough issue that… if somebody is there representing 100,000 people (roughly the size of each Senate district) and wants to be heard, I think we’ll listen to him.”
The House is scheduled to debate Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes on Monday before possibly taking up the flag issue on Tuesday. While the Senate voted last month to take up immediate consideration of the bill, the House sent it to the Judiciary Committee as normal procedure for such controversial legislation. House leaders have indicated they will wait to take up whatever the Senate passes, although it would require a unanimous vote to keep the Senate bill from also going through committee.
Even the staunchest legislative supporters of removing the flag warn that is unlikely. “While I believe the flag will come down and it will come down relatively quickly, nothing in Columbia happens within 24 hours,” State Rep. Doug Brannon, R-Landrum, said.
But African-American lawmakers say they have been waiting for years to debate the flag. State Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, said it took the killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston last month to stir action against symbols of the Confederacy.
“It has opened up the eyes to many of my colleagues who did not realize what we were saying when we said that flag resembles hate,” King said. “Now, when they have it put in their face.. they do not want to be a part of that.”
There have been rumblings about opponents targeting other statues and monuments on the Statehouse grounds, particularly one of former governor Benjamin Tillman — a prominent segregationist who was accused of helping incite lynch mobs before coming into the Governor’s Mansion. The Citadel school trustees are also asking the General Assembly to authorize the Confederate Naval Jack’s removal from the military school’s chapel.
But legislators to this point have only agreed to address the flag already getting most of the public’s attention. Adding anything else would require a two-thirds vote — and King said support would likely drop off if that happened.
“There might be some individuals who will try to attach things, but I think the main concern should be just on the flag,” State Sen. Floyd Nicholson, D-Greenwood, told Greenwood affiliate WCRS last week. “Because if there are other things (added), it won’t go anywhere.”
The Senate is scheduled to meet starting around 10 a.m. You can follow the debate here.