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Politics

After Lengthy Debate, SC House Lawmakers Vote To Take Down Confederate Flag

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The Confederate battle flag will soon be removed from the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol. Shortly after 1 a.m., the state House gave its final approval to take down the flag and move it to a nearby museum. The vote was 94-20 and came after a long and contentious night.

Seven hours into the debate, Representative Joseph Neal reminded his colleagues that “when that flag stands out front, the entire African-American Community feels a pain.”

A pain, the Democrat said, based on a long and disturbing history and the recent murder of nine black parishioners. 

“When groups like the KKK and the Conservative Citizens Council and other groups use that flag as a banner and use it as an excuse to hate and to kill and to burn and to bomb, we’ve got some hard decisions to make and the whole world is watching us,” Neal said.

And they would watch for seven more hours.

Not a single representative argued the Confederate flag should stay, but there was strong opposition led by Republican Representative Michael Pitts. He said removing the flag would come at a price.

“I’m willing to remove that flag from the pole at some point, but at some point I’ll ask for something in return, because I believe in fairness, I believe in balancing of scales.”

Referring to the Civil War as “the war of northern aggression,” Pitts became the standard bearer for those who wanted another Confederate tribute in place of the flag. Pitts introduced dozens of amendments to the bill overwhelmingly passed by the State Senate earlier in the week. There were proposals to fly another Confederate banner on the flag pole, to turn the flag pole into a monument,  and  to plant flowers at the site.

“Some of us need some help in our districts on this issue,” said Republican Rep. Michael Gambrell, for those who see the battle flag as a symbol of pride and history. “Their heritage is just as important as other people’s heritage.”

There were calls for a referendum to decide the fate of the flag, and amendments to take down all monuments on the capitol grounds and replace them with landscaping and call for a committee to estimate the cost of moving the flag. One by one, they were voted down. Republican Representative Christopher Corley grew so angry with members of his own party he offered an amendment to “take the Confederate battle flag down and replace it with what we can now refer to as the unofficial flag of the South Carolina Republican Party, which will be a solid, white flag.”

That too was voted down. 

In all, 68 amendments were proposed. The amendments were a key tool for those opposed to bringing the Confederate flag down for a simple reason – time.

“I would like to express to you how important it is that we not amend this bill,” implored Republican Jennifer Anderson Horne. She pointed out any changes made to the bill would delay the removal of the flag for days and possibly weeks as the South Carolina House and Senate hashed out differences.

Then, her frustration boiled over.

“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage. I am a lifelong South Carolinian. I am a decendent of Jefferson Davis! We need to follow the example of the Senate and remove this flag today! Because this issue is not getting any better with age.”

When the votes came they were bipartisan. The bill needed two votes. Rather than wait for the morning, the House recessed for about 90 seconds in order to finalize their call to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.

Upon hearing the legislation had passed, Governor Nikki Hailey released a statement saying “It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal as one people and one state.”

The Confederate battle flag could be moved to a museum in the next few days.