South Carolina House Votes to Bring Down Confederate Flag

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The South Carolina House early Thursday morning approved taking down the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds, a stunning reversal in a state that was the first to leave the Union in 1860 and raised the flag again at its Statehouse more than 50 years ago to protest the civil rights movement.

“South Carolina can remove the stain from our lives,” said 64-year-old Rep. Joe Neal, a black Democrat first elected in 1992. “I never thought in my lifetime I would see this.”

The move came after more than 13 hours of at times contentious debate, just weeks after the fatal shootings of nine black worshippers, including a popular state senator, were gunned down on June 17 during Bible study at a church with an historically black congregation in Charleston.

The House approved the Senate bill by a two-thirds margin, 94-20. The bill will then go to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who has said she will sign it.

Haley herself reversed her position on the flag, saying the pain, grief and grace of the families of the victims in the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church caused her to realize that while some conservative whites saw the Confederate flag as a symbol of pride in their Southern ancestors, most of the blacks who make up a third of the state’s population see it as a dark reminder of a racist past.

“It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state,” Haley said in a statement after the final vote.

Once removed, the flag is expected to be consigned to the state’s Confederate Relic Room.

The vote ended a day-into-night debate over the future of the Confederate flag that began Wednesday.

The lawmakers were under pressure to act after the state Senate passed its own measure, which Haley supported.

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The flag debate regained urgency last month after the deaths of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight other black people. A white gunman who police said was motivated by racial hatred is charged in the attack.

The battle over the banner was stoked by photos of the accused shooter posing with a Confederate flag on a website bearing a racist manifesto.

The murders sparked a bipartisan wave of repudiation across the South, from politicians to businesses, led by Haley.

As the House debate began, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said it was investigating threats sent to legislators on both sides of the issue.

The debate was civil most of the day but the bill appeared to be in trouble as the debate ran late into the night on Wednesday as Republicans launched dozens of amendments seeking to soften the impact of taking down the flag and move it to a museum.

One of them, Rep. Mike Pitts, said to banish all flags from the site would be akin to erasing history, including that of his family members in Laurens County and the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.

One amendment proposed flying the flag of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers regiment, a blue banner similar to the state flag with its Palmetto tree and crescent moon but with a wreath around the tree. Similar art is etched on a wall inside the Statehouse, Pitts said.

One would have put the flag issue to a popular vote. Another would have allowed the rebel banner to fly only on Confederate Memorial Day in May, and a third would replace the Confederate battle flag with a different banner.

During the often heated and emotional debate, opponents of removing the flag talked about grandparents who passed down family treasures and lamented that the flag had been “hijacked” or “abducted” by racists.

Republican Rep. Jenny Horne reminded her colleagues she was a descendent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and scolded fellow members of her party for stalling the debate with dozens of amendments. She cried from the front of the House as she remembered Pinckney’s funeral.

“For the widow of Senator Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury and I will not be a part of it!” she said.

After the flag was pulled off the Statehouse dome 15 years ago, it was called a settled issue. The banner was instead moved to a monument honoring Confederate soldiers elsewhere on the Capitol grounds.

Source: Al Jazeera and wire services

Reprinted with permission.

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