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South Carolina Governor Calls for Confederate Flag to be Removed From Statehouse Grounds

"Right now my strategy is to scream a lot because my friend is dead,” Brannon said. “Sen. Pinckney's death and the death of eight others, that has to move us to do the right thing.”
Photo via Flickr

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the Statehouse grounds, reversing her position on the divisive symbol. Haley, a Republican, made the announcement during a press conference Monday afternoon following the Charleston church shooting last week that left nine people dead.

In the days following the shooting, a renewed debate has swirled over the Confederate flag. During her speech on Monday, Haley talked about the state of South Carolina's "dark history" in matters of race, saying that the recent events require a different look at the Confederate flag's place at the Capitol.


Haley also said that suspected shooter Dylann Roof had a "sick, twisted view" of the rebel flag. The governor noted that many people in the state see the Confederate banner as a symbol of respect, integrity, and duty, as well as a memorial. On the other hand, she acknowledged that others see the flag deeply offensive symbol of a brutal and oppressive history.

"It's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds," Haley said, adding that "the flag will always be part of the soil of South Carolina."

While Haley's call to take down the flag was welcomed with applause, the move will require a resolution during a special session of the state's General Assembly set to begin on Tuesday.

Following Haley's speech, South Carolina senator and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham issued a statement urging that the flag be removed from the Statehouse grounds.

"Today, I am urging that the Confederate Battle Flag be removed from statehouse grounds to an appropriate location," he said. "After the tragic, hate-filled shooting in Charleston, it is only appropriate that we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag."

This follows news this morning that Norman "Doug" Brannon, a Republican state representative of South Carolina, is plan to introduce legislation that would remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds in Charleston, South Carolina.

Last week, the Confederate flag fluttered at full-staff in front of the South Carolina State House while the American flag and the state's palmetto flag were lowered to half-mast in honor of the nine bible study members shot dead by 21-year-old suspect at Emanuel AME Church, the oldest black congregation in the South. As the country reeled in the aftermath of the racially motivated shootings, the Confederate flag has again become a hotly contested symbol.


The battle flag of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia has become widely associated with the memory of slavery, white supremacy, and segregation in the United States. Known as the "Stars and Bars," the flag's star-smattered blue cross against a scarlet background continues to fly in many parts of the American South. Some of its defenders argue that it's an important symbol of Southern heritage while others see it as a painful reminder of racial oppression.

Among the victims of the shooting was Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate and a friend of Brannon, who told CBS that Pinckney's death was "the switch that flipped" his view on the issue.

"I've been in the House five years," he said. "I should have filed that bill five years ago. But the time is now, I can't let my friend the senator's death go without fundamental change in South Carolina."

Related: Calls to Remove Confederate Flag Follow South Carolina Murders

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He remarked to CNN that two dozen Republicans in the lower chamber of the state legislature had reacted positively. But assembling the two-thirds support necessary in both chambers to adjust the flag's placement — which was stipulated in a 2000 compromise at the General Assembly which removed it from atop the capitol dome and placed it at a nearby Confederate memorial — remains a challenge, and Brannon has acknowledged that his effort could cost him his seat.


"Right now my strategy is to scream a lot because my friend is dead," Brannon said. "Sen. Pinckney's death and the death of eight others, that has to move us to do the right thing."

According to a poll conducted by Winthrop University, 73 percent of whites in South Carolina want the flag to remain where it is, while 61 percent of blacks said it should be taken down.

Roof, who has been charged with nine counts of murder, reportedly proclaimed to his victims, "You've raped our women and you're taking over the country." His car carried the Confederate flag on its license plate. A photograph emerged over the weekend of him waving the Confederate flag while holding a .45 caliber Glock, and he was also photographed wearing the flags of white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and apartheid-era South Africa, both of which have been taken up as symbols by white supremacy groups.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 16 white supremacy groups operating within South Carolina.

Related: The Supreme Court Says Texans Aren't Entitled to Confederate Flag License Plates

An all-white legislature initially raised the flag atop South Carolina's capitol building in Columbia in 1962, ostensibly in observation of the Civil War's centennial, but the move was taken as an apparent response to the civil rights movement that was then challenging institutionalized racism across the country.

After 40 years of criticism from civil rights groups, the flag was eventually moved to a Confederate soldiers memorial on the capitol grounds. Now people are arguing that the flag should be removed entirely, and Republican lawmakers have been carefully navigating the issue, seeking to address the flag's problematic significance without alienating potential voters.


Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee, strongly denounced the flying of the Confederate flag, a stance that was applauded by President Obama.

Take down the — Mitt Romney (@MittRomney)June 20, 2015

Good point, Mitt. — President Obama (@POTUS)June 21, 2015

Related: White Supremacist Cited in Dylann Roof's Alleged Manifesto Donated to Major GOP Campaigns

On Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush issued a statement on the Confederate flag. In 2001, while serving as the governor of Florida, Bush ordered the flag removed from the state's capitol.

"In Florida we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged," he said. "This is obviously a very sensitive time in South Carolina and our prayers are with the families, the AME church community and the entire state. Following a period of mourning there will rightly be a discussion among leaders in the state about how South Carolina should move forward, and I'm confident they will do the right thing."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) released his own statement, saying that the people of South Carolina should decide whether to remove the Confederate flag from state capitol grounds, not "outsiders."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that he can "understand the passions that this debate evokes on both sides" — the memory of racial oppression and slavery for some, and the lives lost in the civil war and "traditions" for others. Like Rubio and Bush, Cruz left the issue of the flag in the hands of South Carolina.

Brannon reportedly plans to introduce his bill to remove the flag as soon as he can, which due to the congressional schedule likely won't be until December at the earliest. According to reports, other politicians have said they will refrain from debating the issue until after the funerals have been held for the nine victims who Roof murdered during bible study last week.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen Photo via Flickr