SC Lawmakers Take First Step To Remove Confederate Flag
The Confederate flag still flies on the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol this morning after a fast-paced day of rallies, counter protests, and votes by state legislators.
By 9:30 Tuesday morning, Joyce Gilliard had finished her pilgrimage. It began in the pews of Emanuel AME Church in her hometown of Charleston. That’s where nine African Americans were gunned down last week by alleged shooter Dylann Roof who embraced the flag as symbol of white supremacy.
“I went to the services on Sunday and it was the most emotional thing I could have been a part of,” says Gilliard.
Standing on the grounds of the state capitol, Gilliard looks up at the Confederate flag and says for her it stands for just one thing: hatred.
That was a word you heard a lot Tuesday from both sides.
“You can’t change hate. Meanness is mean and hatred is hate,” says John Miller.
Miller was one of a handful of people perched on the steps of the Confederate War Memorial. The Confederate flag bandana he wore on his head was a visible marker of where he stands on the issue.
“What happened in Charleston is a terrible thing, but the flag didn’t do it. The flag did not pull the trigger. A crazy man pulled the trigger,” says Miller.
That’s why he believes the flag should stay. But Miller’s view was not one shared by the vast majority of the crowd outside the state house Tuesday.
By 11:00 hundreds had gathered, young and old, African-American and white. They had a simple message which they chanted as the Confederate flag waved above them, “Take it down! Take it down! Take it down.”
They were there to hear from reverends, representatives, mayors, poets, and senators who all shared their view. As they spoke, some in the crowd posed for pictures underneath a symbol they despised while holding handmade signs calling for South Carolina lawmakers to act now.
Against that backdrop State Senator Tom Davis, a white Republican stepped to the microphone. He wants the Confederate flag moved to a museum, but he told the crowd some of his fellow lawmakers don’t agree. He said they see it as a symbol of state’s rights, heritage, not hate.
“There are some good and decent people up there in that general assembly, without a racist bone in their body who revere that flag,” said Davis.
He said he thinks it’s important to let them have their say and also work to convince them that since the Confederate flag has become a rallying point for hate groups, its time on the capitol grounds has come to an end.
At 1:00 Tuesday afternoon, South Carolina’s House and Senate convened.
One of the first senators to call for the flag to be moved was Paul Thurmond, son of the late U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.
“Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves,” said Thurmond.
His views are very different from those of his father who strongly supported segregation for much of his life.
“I’m proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the state house.”
On the other side of the capitol building, Representative Joe Neal called for unity.
“I want you to put aside partisan bickering and understand that all of us are human beings and all of us deserve to be treated like human beings,” said Neal.
The votes in both the House and Senate were bipartisan and, overwhelmingly, in favor of allowing debate on whether or not the Confederate flag belongs at the capitol or in a museum. But all the votes accomplished Tuesday was to allow debate on the subject. It is an important first step, but that second step is potentially weeks away.
Senator Tom Davis said he’s heard that will happen by July 20. He spoke after both chambers adjourned for the day.
“There is sentiment on both sides of the aisle that the next order of business is to continue grieving for our friend and bury our friend,” said Davis.
The body of State Senator Clementa Pinckney will lie in state at the capital Wednesday. Pinckney was senior pastor at Emanuel AME Church and one of nine people murdered in the shooting. Supporters had hoped the Confederate flag would be taken down before the ceremony. Instead they’ll have to walk past it on their way to pay their respects.