Detroit News - S.C. Governor Signs Bill to Remove Confederate Flag

News Article

South Carolina's governor relegated the Confederate flag to the state's "relic room" on Thursday, more than 50 years after the rebel banner began flying at the Statehouse to protest the civil rights movement.

Compelled to act by the slaughter of nine African-Americans at a church Bible study, Gov. Nikki Haley praised lawmakers for acknowledging that the long-celebrated symbol is too painful and divisive to keep promoting.

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

Police then surrounded the rebel flag with barricades and rope, a siege of sorts that will end Friday after the banner is furled for the last time at a 10 a.m. ceremony and relegated to the state's Confederate Relic Room.

South Carolina's leaders first flew the battle flag over the Statehouse dome in 1961 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. It remained there to represent official opposition to the civil rights movement.

Mass protests against the flag decades later led to a compromise in 2000 with lawmakers who insisted that it symbolized Southern heritage and states' rights. They agreed then to move it to a 30-foot pole next to a Confederate monument out front.

For hour after tedious hour, the South Carolina House of Representatives debated whether to remove a Confederate battle flag from state grounds. They tried to amend the bill and stalled.

But in the early hours of Thursday morning, one legislator, Rep. Jenny Horne, a white lawyer who said her ancestor was the president of the Confederate States of America, took to the podium and delivered an impassioned speech condemning symbols of hate and the violence that left nine black parishioners dead in a Charleston church on June 17.

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

Horne's words cut through the debate that has splintered her state. The bill ultimately passed 93-27 in the House.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., the Republican-controlled House scrapped a vote on permitting the Confederate flag at Park Service-run cemeteries on Thursday.

Retreating under pressure, House Republicans abruptly scrapped plans for a vote Thursday to permit the display of Confederate flags at Park Service-run cemeteries, reacting to furious protests from Democrats that the banner celebrates a murderous, racist past.

"What exactly is the tradition of the Confederate battle flag that we're supporting?" Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. challenged supporters of the proposal, shortly before the GOP leadership announced its decision.

"Is it slavery, rape, kidnap, treason, genocide or all of the above?"

No Republican rose to respond.

"It's a shame that House Republicans are attempting to undo progress, standing up now to support the Confederate flag," added Congressman Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, in a floor speech. "The Confederate flag is a painful symbol of hate to many Americans and it is time for it to come down."

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, was outraged at the Republicans' actions, saying they showed a "lack of courage" to stand against the symbol of racism.

"Today, we did not have the courage to stand up and vote," she said citing the Republicans decision to pull the vote. "What is there left to discuss? ... This does not look good for the Republican Party."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Thursday for a working group of Democrats and Republicans to review issues related to the display of Confederate memorabilia in the U.S. Capitol.

"I actually think it's time for some adults here in the Congress to actually sit down and have a conversation about how to address this issue," Boehner told reporters. "I do not want this to become some political football. It should not."

Asked whether Boehner believes the Confederate battle flag should be displayed at federal cemeteries, he replied, "No."

Democratic protests aside, the vote was slated for a particularly awkward time -- hours after the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the same flag from a pole on the grounds of the State capitol.

The decision abruptly halted debate on legislation providing funds for the Interior Department and related agencies, and marked the latest in a string of developments relating to the Confederate flag in the House.

Earlier in the week, lawmakers decided by voice vote and without controversy to ban the display of the Confederate flag in Park Service-run cemeteries.

GOP leaders became concerned that the measure might fail -- Democrats oppose it because they want more spending and some Republicans were unhappy with the prohibition on the flag. That led to plans to reconsider the prohibition in a vote that had been set for Thursday afternoon.

The proposal would have permitted the limited display of the Confederate flag at Park Service-run cemeteries in states that observe a holiday commemorating the Confederacy, and only at the graves of rebels who died in the Civil War.

It would have affected 10 graveyards, including four in Tennessee, three in Virginia and one each in Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia.

During the Thursday discussion on the House floor, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, offered a resolution to remove any state flag containing the Confederate battle flag from the House side of the Capitol.

It was a revised version of the proposal by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the only black member of Mississippi's delegation, that was referred June 25 to the House Administration panel chaired by U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.

The proposal effectively would force the removal of the state flag of Mississippi from the House wing of the Capitol and House office buildings, but not from the offices of House members. The flags would be donated to the Library of Congress.

Thompson has said the resolution was assigned to Miller's committee to avoid a "tough" vote.

Miller said Thursday the proposal requires "every serious consideration" because it would involve a precedent-setting removal of a state flag from the Capitol -- an action that requires "much thought, deliberation and input from all parties, especially those from the state whose flag is being asked to be removed," she said.

"I am obligated to take into consideration input from all stakeholders, and I look forward to hearing their input," Miller said in a statement.

"However, speaking for myself, personally, I am proud of the South Carolinians for the action they took to remove what so many consider -- including myself -- this symbol of divisiveness."

Lawrence said the flag is too divisive to be displayed on public property.

"I'm a minority in America, I am a descendant of slaves -- and the whole history of what the Confederate flag represents is personal to me. But there are white people in America who understand our history and say we have moved past that," Lawrence said.

"We do not embrace that time in our history that we enslaved people."

Detroit News staff writers Melissa Nann Burke and David Shepardson and the Los Angeles Times contributed