Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has called on the state legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol.
Her decision is a reversal of her position on the divisive symbol, the about-face Monday comes after a young white man who embraced the flag as a symbol of white supremacy was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members. The flag has flown in front of the state Capitol for 15 years after being moved from atop the Statehouse dome.
Haley was surrounded by Republicans and Democrats alike and received a loud applause and cheering when she made her announcement. The flag was carried into battle by forces supporting the pro-slavery, secessionist Southern states during the 1861-65 American Civil War.
“It’s time to move the flag from the capital grounds,” Haley said in a press conference. “One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.”
The suspect in the church shootings, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was photographed earlier holding Confederate flags. Police say he made racial insults at the church members during the shooting.
Supporters of the flag say it is a memorial to fallen Confederate soldiers, but opponents say it’s a symbol of hate put atop the Statehouse dome to protest the civil rights movement.
Haley’s remarks were made as leading South Carolina Republican joined calls to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.
U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, now seeking the Republican presidential nomination, will call later Monday for the flag to come down, a person familiar with his decision told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, to avoid precluding Graham’s announcement.
South Carolina’s other U.S. senator, Tim Scott, a black Republican, will join the call, according to a Republican familiar with his decision who spoke to the AP anonymously for lack of authorization to describe the senator’s position.
Other Republicans were meeting urgently with each other and the Republican governor to decide whether to follow suit. Haley, who in the past has favored leaving the flag where it is, did not tip her hand publicly, but she was welcoming Democrats to join her at a news conference announced for Monday afternoon.
“Last week’s terrorizing act of violence shook the very core of every South Carolinian,” House Majority Leader Jay Lucas said in a statement. “Moving South Carolina forward from this terrible tragedy requires a swift resolution of this issue.”
A growing number of religious and political leaders said they would push for the flag’s removal Tuesday during a rally in the capitol. The White House said President Barack Obama respects the state of South Carolina’s authority to decide the issue, but believes the flag belongs in a museum.
“The flag got appropriated by hate groups. We can’t put it in a public place where it can give any oxygen to hate-filled people,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., a Democrat.
But the Republicans who have led South Carolina for a quarter-century have rebuffed many previous calls to remove the flag, and there’s no apparent consensus between them on how they should respond now.
The last governor to call for removing it, Republican David Beasley, was hounded out of office in 1998 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, effectively ending his political career.
The group announced Monday that it will vigorously fight any effort to remove the flag now.
Democratic State Sen. Darrell Jackson helped broker the compromise that moved the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome to a Confederate monument outside. That compromise in 2000 made it very difficult to make any other changes: A super-majority of two-thirds of both houses of the state legislature is required to do so.
The compromise has kept the Confederate flag flying high outside the Statehouse since the shooting, even after state and U.S. flags were lowered to half-staff to honor the victims of Wednesday night’s massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
It also means that when the state aims Wednesday to honor Emanuel’s slain senior pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, by welcoming thousands of people to file past his coffin inside the Statehouse, the mourners will likely see the Confederate flag on their way in or out.
This symbolism has angered many, particularly now that photos surfaced showing the alleged killer 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof burning one American flag and stepping on another, while waving and posing provocatively with Confederate banners.
“Do not associate the cowardly actions of a racist to our Confederate Banner,” South Carolina Commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Leland Summers said in a statement. “There is absolutely no link between The Charleston Massacre and The Confederate Memorial Banner. Don’t try to create one.”
The debate over the flag has been revived as thousands of people converged on Charleston to show their solidarity with the victims and join a mix of rallies, marches and funerals. Bells tolled across Charleston Sunday as the church known as “Mother Emanuel” reopened.
Thousands marched later Sunday on the city’s iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a 2-mile (3-kilometer) span with towering cable supports that is named after a former state lawmaker and vocal Confederate flag supporter. It is one of many symbols of white power that remain in South Carolina and can’t easily be changed because of the flag deal.
Story by the Associated Press