It was an atmosphere of celebration more so than protest at the S.C. State House Saturday afternoon.
“It should have been gone long ago,” a live band sang at an NAACP-sponsored rally calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state’s capitol.
On the nation’s birthday, some waved American flags while protesting the other red, white and blue banner that many say has divided the state for decades, but intensely so over the past two weeks.
S.C. legislators Monday will begin debate on removing the flag from a Confederate monument at the State House.
Saturday’s crowd of roughly 800-1,000, according to Columbia police chief Skip Holbrook’s estimate, let legislators know what decision they want to see: “Take down the flag,” hundreds of signs read.
“I think it’s extremely important as a way to start healing after what happened in Charleston,” said Susan Vanderborg of Columbia, referring to the June 17 killings of nine African-Americans at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church, allegedly by a white Columbia area man. “It’s not everything, but it’s one small step in the right direction.”
She brought her 9-year-old daughter, Katie Smith, to the State House, where they both held signs asking for the Confederate flag to be taken down.
“I want her to grow up in a society that’s governed by love and not hate,” Vanderborg said.
The event was the second “Take the Flag Down SC” rally. The first was held two weeks ago, before Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed from a pole by a monument to Confederate soldiers. The flag was moved there from the State House dome as part of a 2000 compromise.
Unlike some other gatherings that have taken place on the grounds in recent days, Saturday’s rally maintained an atmosphere of peace and friendliness.
“Right now is a really good time to promote unity,” said Kayla Mallett of Columbia. “I think by this point it’s pretty clear that the flag is going to come down. ... I feel like the onus is on me to not just sit back, but to work toward making a difference.”
Symbols matter, Mallett said, and the Confederate flag is a symbol that belongs in a museum.
Neal Jones, pastor of Columbia’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation, called the flag a symbol of “bigotry and division.”
“Some say this flag represents their heritage, and they are correct. It represents a heritage of hate,” Jones said, speaking to the crowd from the State House steps. “To say that this flag represents heritage and not hate is to believe a half-history and to tell a half-truth.
“Let me say, as a white Southerner, that this flag may represent my past, but it does not represent my present, and it will not represent my future.”
The Associated Press contributed.