South Carolina House Votes to Remove Confederate Flag


State Representative John King after the South Carolina House of Representatives approved a bill early Thursday to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds. Credit John Bazemore/Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Confederate battle flag that has flown at the South Carolina State House for more than 50 years will soon be gone after lawmakers capped a tension-filled session early Thursday and voted to remove it from the grounds of the State Capitol.

The final vote in the State House of Representatives, 94 to 20, was well above the two-thirds majority required to move the bill to the desk of Gov. Nikki R. Haley, a Republican who called for the flag to come down after the massacre last month at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Ms. Haley’s office said that she would sign the bill into law at an event at 4 p.m. on Thursday at the State House. With Ms. Haley’s signature, the clock will begin to tick, and the state will have 24 hours to take down the flag, which will be moved to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, near the Capitol.

“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,” Ms. Haley said in a statement after the vote, which she watched from her wing of offices just below the House chamber.

State Representative Jenny Anderson Horne calls on colleagues to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State House. By SCETV via Associated Press on Publish Date July 9, 2015. Photo by Travis Dove for The New York Times.

Lawmakers were by turns elated and stunned by the outcome, which came after hours of debate on amendments that could have extended talk about the flag deeper into July. Representative David J. Mack III, a Democrat, had warned late Wednesday that lawmakers were dawdling to such an extent that the flag could still be flying on July 18, the day the Ku Klux Klan is scheduled to stage a protest here.

“To have this resolved tonight the way it was was very exciting,” Mr. Mack said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy; there’s a lot of feelings on both sides as it relates to the flag. I’m just very happy with the outcome.”

But the church shooting — in which nine people, including a state senator, were killed in what the authorities have called a hate crime — loomed over the proceedings. The man charged in the killings, Dylann Roof, 21, had been photographed before the attack with the Confederate flag.

“It’s unfortunate that such a tragic event was required to bring about change, but in the end, if any good came of it, it’s that we put a contentious issue behind us,” said Representative James H. Merrill, a Republican.


Excerpts From the Confederate Flag Debate in the South Carolina House
Remarks made Wednesday before the vote on whether to remove the Confederatebattle flag.


The final vote came after the flag’s opponents defeated a series of amendments intended to derail the proposal. At one point on Wednesday night, Representative Jenny Anderson Horne, a Republican, tearfully pleaded with her colleagues to advance the measure without amendment.

“The people of Charleston deserve swift and immediate removal of that flag from these grounds,” Ms. Horne said. “I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful.”

When one amendment appeared close to receiving enough support to pass, which would have protracted the legislative process and defied Ms. Haley’s wishes, lawmakers reached a late-night agreement that allowed the bill to receive not only preliminary approval, but also a final vote just a few minutes later.

“I grew up holding that flag in reverence because of the stories of my ancestors,” said State Representative Michael A. Pitts, foreground in light-colored jacket. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

“I don’t think there was ever an intent of most to vote against moving the flag,” Mr. Merrill said. Instead, he said, many critics had “a frustration level” because they felt that their views were not given “equal balance” during the frenzied few weeks of deliberations about the flag’s fate.Indeed, before the final vote, one lawmaker complained about the Senate, which approved the bill on Tuesday, having too much sway during the debate.

But such protests were ignored for the most part in the House. Lawmakers moved quickly to put in place their accord by employing a series of parliamentary and scheduling maneuvers to bring the bill to a final vote just minutes after it received tentative approval. The action required adjourning and quickly reconvening in what was technically a new legislative day.

After watching the vote from the House gallery, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the civil rights leader and South Carolina native, described the bill’s passage as “a victory over the pride factor.”

With legislative backing in hand and Ms. Haley prepared to sign the bill, the focus will now shift to how and when the flag will be removed. Representative J. Todd Rutherford, the Democratic leader in the House, said he anticipated that the governor’s office would summon cadets from the Citadel, South Carolina’s military college, to lower the flag and deliver it to the Relic Room.

Mr. Rutherford, who is black, was among the lawmakers marveling at the speed with which the flag was left ready to fall, just 15 years after a compromise moved it from the State House’s dome to a 30-foot flagpole next to the Confederate Soldier Monument.

“It means the world to us,” Mr. Rutherford said, “that we can move a symbol of division off of our front yard.”

Source: The New York Times

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