South Carolina Removes Confederate Flag from Capitol Building

South Carolina has passed historic legislation to remove the Confederate flag from its traditional post outside the capitol building.  After hours of contentious and emotional debate, the legislation spearheaded by Governor Nikki Haley (R) cleared its final hurdle in the state’s House of Representatives.  Surrounded by family members of the 9 victims of the racially motivated church shooting last month, Governor Haley formally signed the bill into law in a ceremony held shortly after the bill was passed.

Scrutiny on Confederate Flag comes After Tragic Shooting

Although there has been a long standing debate about flying the Confederate flag in government buildings in South Carolina, the discussion to remove the symbol began in earnest after last month’s attack on a historically black church that left 9 dead – including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator.  The shooter, whose actions were racially motivated, was seen in images prior to the attack posing with a Confederate flag as a symbol of racial hatred and bigotry, prompting South Carolina government officials to renew debate over the value of continued display of the flag.

Republican Governor Nikki Haley emerged as a lead advocate for the flag’s removal in the wake of the shooting, and quickly earned support from both sides of the political aisle in the state’s Senate.  Haley and other opponents of the Confederate flag point to its history as a symbol of racism, oppression, and discrimination, but their negative view is not universally shared.  Many citizens and legislators in South Carolina argue the flag represents a proud southern heritage and honors the courage of southern soldiers in the Civil War, and this viewpoint has been the prevailing opinion keeping the Confederate symbol flying atop the state building for more than 200 years. 

After the racially motivated attack, however, opposition to the Confederate flag gained public support culminating in a passion-filled legislative session that resulted in a bill passed by both South Carolina houses of government which ordered the flag’s removal from the statehouse.

South Carolina Legislature Votes to Remove Confederate Flag

During a 13-hour debate that took place throughout the night and early morning hours South Carolina legislators in the state’s House of Representatives argued, spoke, and pleaded with colleagues in order to hammer out a final bill that would remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol building.  Traditional southern Republicans pointed to a long heritage of southern families – many of whom did not own slaves – that fought with courage and honor during the Civil War who recognize the flag as a symbol of their lineage.  Responses from members of both parties who oppose the ongoing display of the flag countered that the symbol represents bigotry, racism, and slavery and should not be officially honored at the state’s capitol.

After passionate pleas from Governor Haley and other members of the House, conservative Republican opposition waned and a number of proposed amendments that would force the bill back to the state Senate were dropped from the debate.  A final emotional plea from Rep. Jenny Horne, whose family has historical ties to Civil War figures, admonished her colleagues for resisting the removal of a “symbol of hate” from the statehouse helped tip the scales in favor of the proposed bill without additional amendments, leading to its passage by a vote of 94 – 20.  The Senate had previously passed the bill by a vote of 36 – 3 earlier in the week, but the House opposition to the Senate’s final version created the contentious overnight debate that finally resulted in the flag’s removal.

Governor Haley signed the bill into law later in the afternoon, and the Confederate flag will be officially removed on Friday and be relocated to its final resting place in a nearby museum. In the wake of South Carolina’s historic decision to remove the Confederate flag, members of the federal House of Representatives opened the door to a tense debate about recognizing the Confederate symbol in national cemeteries and other federal locales.

Federal Congress Turns Attention to Confederate Flag

Only 500 miles north of the celebratory signing of the Confederate flag removal ceremony in South Carolina, legislators in DC began a similarly intense debate about the continued recognition of the symbol on national buildings and federal Civil War cemeteries.  Southern conservatives have made efforts to preserve display of the flag in historical sites in order to recognize the heritage and history of the Confederate south, but opposition from Democrats and members of the House’s Black Caucus have demanded removal of an image they argue represents bigotry and racial hatred.

Speaker of the House Jim Boehner (R – OH) attempted to quell debate by appointing a bipartisan committee to conduct a review of the display of the Confederacy in federal buildings and national cemeteries that hold southern soldiers. While the House has not considered any legislative initiatives regarding removal of the Confederate flag, it is clear that the debate is just getting started among federal legislators.

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