South Carolina Governor Backs Removal of Confederate Flag

(Bloomberg) -- South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaks at a news conference to call for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House in Columbia after the fatal shooting of nine people in a historic black church in Charleston. (Source: Bloomberg)

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for removing the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds after the fatal shooting of nine in a historic black church in Charleston.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama said he would attend the funeral of the pastor gunned down in an attack that has focused the nation’s attention on its lingering legacy of racial hatred.

Haley, a Republican, said during a Monday press conference in Columbia that after killings at Emanuel AME Church, the time had come for the state to remove what for many has become a galling symbol of repression.

“That flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future,” Haley said. “By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony.”

South Carolina, like other Southern states, began flying the secessionist standard in the civil-rights era, as blacks gained power after years of segregation. While individuals and groups including the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the League of the South see the flag as honoring Civil War veterans, it also became what Haley called a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

A closed-door meeting with lawmakers is expected Tuesday, and they could amend the budget or extend the legislative session to consider a removal bill, Republican Representative Doug Brannon said.

“It’s a symbol of hatred to a large percentage of the population of this state, and they own that land,” Brannon said in a telephone interview. “Unfortunately, it took the tragedy of nine lives to give me the guts to do it and inspire others to realize the time is now.”

Haley said she would call a special legislative session if lawmakers don’t act.

Suspect’s Banner

While the governor said residents can display the flag on their private property, there was a renewed call to remove the flag from the State House after the discovery of photos that showed suspect Dylann Storm Roof posing with it. Investigators have arrested Roof, a 21-year-old white man, in the killings June 17 during a Bible study session. Authorities are pursuing the case as a hate crime.

Obama will deliver the eulogy Friday for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state lawmaker, slain with eight parishioners. The president has said the June 17 shooting raises troubling questions about race and gun violence in the U.S. that have not been addressed. In South Carolina, the debate over how to respond has focused on the flag.

“We would be best served by it being taken down,” said Representative Gary Clary, a first-term Republican whose ancestors served in the Confederate Army. “For it to be on the front lawn of the State House of South Carolina sends the wrong message.”

The battle flag wasn’t generally displayed after the Civil War, but started to reappear in the 1940s as a symbol of Southern resentment, said Mike Martinez, an assistant professor of political science at Kennesaw State University in Georgia who edited a book about Confederate symbols. It became widespread as a symbol of white resistance to civil rights.

“The Confederate battle flag has multiple meanings for multiple parties,” Martinez said. “Is it hate? Yes. Is it heritage? Yes. It’s all of those things.”

Mississippi and Georgia incorporated the flag into their state standards, said John M. Coski, a historian at the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia. Alabama and South Carolina have flown it over their capitols, he said.

Fatal Turn

In Columbia, the flag in 2000 was moved to a Confederate memorial on the grounds in a compromise, said Senator Darrell Jackson, a Democrat.

Jackson said by phone he would prefer that the controversy about the flag not distract from mourning the victims. Yet the flag should come down, he said.

“I had always hoped that, one day, we would take the final step,” he said.

Brannon said that day has arrived.

“Senator Pinckney and his parishioners can’t die and that flag continue to fly,” he said.

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