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SC Senate Moves To Take Down State Capitol's Confederate Flag

Ben Bradford

Update: In a required second vote, the South Carolina Senate on Tuesday approved removing the  Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. The vote was 36-3. The bill is now in the House.

The South Carolina state Senate has started what would have been an almost unthinkable political process a month ago—a move to take down the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds. After last month’s shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, the process gained momentum.

Near the flagpole holding the Confederate flag, a man holds sign that reads, “Honk if you want the flag down.” On the other side of the flagpole, four others stand wearing Confederate colors, including 20-year-old Jim Collins. He has two Confederate flags—one waving in his hands, another tattooed on his calf.

“It’s just history, pride, heritage. I got three sides of my family that fought for the Confederacy, and that’s just something no one can take away from you,” Collins says.

“The flag absolutely is heritage,” agrees Tom Clements, who holds the ‘take it down’ sign. It’s in my blood, because I have Confederate ancestor, but that doesn’t mean I honor it. I think it represents white supremacy and division, and it needs to come down.

As the day went on, more protesters joined each side. But not everyone fell into such neat boxes. In the lobby of the capitol building, about a dozen voices rose in song singing “Amazing Grace.”

Fay Evans says her group of churchgoers want the flag down, but her main goal is to “to bring unity and focus and meekness and mildness to an issue that has been so horrendous for so many years.”

But inside the Senate chamber, trade the signs for suits and it had a lot in common with the sidewalk protests.

“Removing this flag from out front is not going to do anything to change this nation,” said Senator Lee Bright. All we’re going to do is disrespect these 20,000 men, black and white, that fought to defend your state."

The Senate bill would move the flag across the street into a state-run Confederate museum. Senator Vincent Sheehen sponsored the bill.

“One thing I think we all should agree on by now is that this is a symbol that regardless of what you believe it means, that divides us. And we can't afford to be divided anymore.”

The Senate voted 37-3 to move the flag. It still faces a lengthy process before becoming law, but Senator Karl Allen called it a “monumental and historical” win.

WFAE's Ben Bradford talks to Morning Edition host Marshall Terry.

Folding up the flag was unthinkable just 15 years ago — at the time, it flew on top of the state house, alongside the American flag. Protests and an NAACP-led boycott spurred a compromise that moved the flag to its current location at the edge of the capitol grounds. North Charleston pastor Nelson Rivers III helped lead those protests. And he was there yesterday.

“It’s been a long time coming. It’s a bad bargain for us, because it took nine lives to make the state do what they should have done,” Rivers said.

As the senators left, protesters on both sides still lined the sidewalk. And they’ll likely be there again when the Senate votes one more time today. Then the bill moves to the House, where the vote is expected to be far closer.”