Because the suspect in the murder of nine people in a Charleston church, Dylann Roof, had a Confederate emblem on his car and reportedly said he wanted to start another civil war, there are new calls to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds. Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, House Minority Leader, says he’ll file a bill next week to remove the flag.
For decades, the flag flew above the Statehouse dome. But after a huge protest march by the NAACP in January of 2000, followed by months of Statehouse debate, lawmakers reached a compromise that took the flag off the dome and put it in front of the Statehouse, at the Confederate Soldier monument. The NAACP has continued to protest, though, saying the flag is still in a place of prominence, since it’s right in front of the Statehouse.
Gov. Nikki Haley said Friday in Charleston, “Fifteen years ago, the General Assembly at the time, they had a conversation. The Republicans and Democrats and everybody came together on a consensus to bring the Confederate flag down off of the dome and they put it on a monument out in front. I think that conversation will probably come back up again and, you know, what we hope is we do things the way South Carolinians do, which is have the conversation, allow some thoughtful words to be exchanged, be kind about it, come together on what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re trying to do it. I think this state will start talking about that again and we’ll see where it goes.”
Mike Hemlepp of Columbia says he understands the argument of flag supporters that it’s all about heritage, since he’s a Southerner who loves history. “And if that flag had been there since Reconstruction, I would be on that side. But that flag was put there in the 1960s. It wasn’t put there in the 1860s,” he says. “And that’s not even an actual flag of the Confederacy connected to South Carolina. There are dozens of Confederate flags that could be flying there that South Carolina actually had during the Civil War. That flag was a flag that was used by proponents of segregation.”
When lawmakers passed the compromise to move the flag off the dome, they also included language in the law that only they have the authority to remove the flag, and it would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to do so.
There’s an online petition drive by MoveOn.org calling for the Confederate flag’s removal. As of Friday evening, it had more than 224,000 signatures. Petition organizers say they’ll deliver it to state lawmakers and the governor. The petition says, “On the heels of the brutal killing of nine Black people in a South Carolina church by a racist terrorist, it’s time to put that symbol of rebellion and racism behind us and move toward healing and a better United States of America!”
Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, says, “I think it’ll bring up talk about possibly moving it because that talk is just below the surface forever. But I don’t see that this incident has any bearing on the flag or the flag has any bearing on the incident. This kid had drug issues and mental issues and I think that’s the root of the problem. Racism exists no matter whether you try to use the flag as a symbol for that or not.”