Praise and criticism from across the country flooded S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s inbox last year as the state reeled from the shooting of nine parishioners in Charleston and grappled with whether to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
The Lexington Republican on Wednesday released more than 10,000 pages of emails and letters related to the Confederate flag and the event that led her to call for its removal – a shooting at “Mother” Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, which claimed the lives of nine African-American churchgoers.
In the days immediately following the shooting, emails overwhelmingly urged the governor to remove the divisive banner from its public perch. Many came from out of state.
“As a white citizen of this country, I am ashamed that a state government still flies a flag that is hurtful to all of us,” a California woman wrote.
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“At this time of mourning for those who were murdered at Mother Emanuel Church, to continue to allow a symbol of hate and pain to fly is the height of insensitivity,” a New Jersey man said.
When Haley called for the flag’s removal five days after the shooting, she received a flood of emails from Confederate flag supporters.
A Greer man wrote, “Until yesterday I have been a supporter of your agenda. Now I regret to inform you that I will never cast another vote for you, or any legislator who votes to remove this symbol of heritage (not hate).”
The emails, released to reporters Wednesday through an open records request, are being made public just days before Sunday’s one-year anniversary of the flag’s furling. The correspondence spans from June 18, the day after the church shooting, to July 13, three days after the Confederate flag was removed from the State House grounds.
The governor’s office redacted last names and contact information for the people who communicated with her. The office also withheld a small number of emails that contained security details or legal memos, her office said.
One email included in the public records request came from Columbia attorney Leighton Lord, who was working with a team of about 10 other people to contact businesses and prominent leaders to ask them to add their names to a full-page newspaper ad endorsing the flag’s removal.
The team also asked for money to buy the ad, and “no one refused,” Lord said Wednesday when asked about the list.
The team collected endorsements from more than 50 major business and political players for removing the flag, which they shared with the governor.
The endorsements included former S.C. governors, current U.S. senators and representatives, manufacturing giants Boeing, BMW, Michelin and Milliken, the presidents of Furman, USC, Clemson, and the College of Charleston and various other business and community organizations.
The emails released Wednesday also include an early $1 million estimated cost for displaying the Confederate flag prepared by the Confederate Relic Room director for legislators. Later estimates, which included a major museum renovation, set the cost more than $5 million.
Cries for the flag’s removal started almost immediately after news broke that nine African-American churchgoers were shot and killed while they prayed and studied the Bible together. One of the victims included the church’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
Not long after the shooting, online pictures emerged of accused shooter Dylann Roof posing with the flag on a website with racist writings that he allegedly wrote.
Less than a week after the shooting, Haley gathered state officials at the State House and, in a press conference, called for the Confederate flag’s removal from its pole near the Confederate Soldier Monument on the State House grounds.
A symbol of the state’s Confederate heritage to some, Haley said the banner had been hijacked and needed to be removed. The S.C. Senate agreed.
By early July, after hours of contentious debate, the state House delivered the flag a final blow, voting to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. It was removed from the capitol dome in 2000.
Before Haley’s announcement, several of the emails, angry about the flag still flying, informed Haley of canceled plans to move to or vacation in South Carolina and threatened to boycott goods made in the Palmetto State.
Several compared the Confederate banner to the Nazi flag. Others called for Haley to back gun control measures and not to blame the shooting on mental health issues.
Some said the Confederate flag – and the vestiges of Confederate culture in the South – helped shape Roof, who faces the death penalty in both state and federal court.
“Is it a surprise that a young man who was raised under this banner, and drives the streets named after Confederate generals, should turn out to uphold this violent and racist tradition?” an Illinois man wrote.
“I believe that the perception is that a miscreant like Dylann Roof was created, and nurtured, in the arms of an intolerant, racist Southern tradition.”
Flag ‘should fly proudly’
Not all of the correspondence Haley received was against the flag.
A Florida man said he has read many accounts of the Civil War which have “struck a very deep and emotional chord for me. In my readings, I have never seen evidence that the Confederate flag represents a ‘hatred of blacks,’ as has been proclaimed by the press in the past two days.”
The flag, he said, “is a symbol of historical significance and should fly proudly over all the state capitols that once belonged to the Confederate States of America.”
A Greenwood man wrote in support of the flag, saying “any semi-reasonably intelligent people can research the history, origins and purpose of this emblem and rightfully (conclude) that it had nothing to do with the cause they assign to it.”
“To acquiesce to their cries is to throw away the integrity of those that died and fought,” he said.
Descendents of Civil War soldiers, Klansman weigh in
A long-time member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans from Aiken called for the flag’s removal.
“It’s the least we can do to show our respect and support and to demonstrate that the Republican Party, and most importantly, the state of South Carolina is not racist,” he wrote. “... Unfortunately, since the flag has become a symbol of racism, just take away the symbol, and let’s move on.”
A man who said he is a grandson of a Ku Klux Klan leader in rural Alabama, living in Oregon, said he knew “how it became a symbol of bigotry, hatred and oppression, and I can imagine how hurtful it must seem to the descendants of slaves. ... I believe your brave leadership will help move South Carolina and all of the South beyond the darkness of the past.”
But descendents of Confederate soldiers also criticized Haley’s decision. One whose ancestors fought with the Tennessee 25th Infantry urged Haley to keep the flag flying.
“I know that there has been many people who would like nothing better than than to see the ‘Battle Flag’ removed from in front of the State House grounds and are using this tragic incident to help their cause and to stir up the media,” said Mark (no last name) of Indian Land.
He added: “I honor the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of the war that my ancestor fought and died for and not a symbol of hatred and racism.”
Hostilities, political warnings in some notes
Other emails warned Haley of the political fallout.
A North Augusta man warned that removing the flag would “destroy your political career” and “hurt the Republican Party dearly. ... The Confederate Flag had nothing to do with what one crazy person did.”
Some called her a traitor: “(I)s there a connection of races here? She is surrounded by blacks making the announcement – where are the whites?” said a man from Winston-Salem.
Several emails were racist and sexist in nature, criticizing Haley’s Indian-American heritage. Some included racial slurs against African-Americans.
Sometimes the tone of the emails were threatening.
For example, one writer damned Haley to hell for pushing for the flag’s removal.
Another called Haley “a pawn in the black race’s hands” and said her position was an “all-out attack on our Southern heritage.” The writer added, “If this were the Civil War Era, I would have you executed!”
A Seattle man, meanwhile, accused Haley of shifting blame for the shooting and said the governor is partly responsible. “You, Governor, helped put the shooter in that church. You ... fly that Confederate battle flag over the capitol. You ... promote legislation that puts guns in the hands of racists and murderers. You ... are responsible. Not as responsible as he who pulled the trigger.”
But Haley also received much praise for pushing for the flag’s removal.
‘On the right side of history’
A Texas woman, and “lifelong Democrat,” said she’s “walking around saying great stuff about a Republican governor right now. If I were in your state. I’d consider voting for you! Go, Go, Awesome Governor!”
Mary, a 65-year-old woman from the town of Cross, thanked Haley from “the bottom of (her) heart. ... God Bless You! You are standing now on the right side of history and on the right side of human rights. ... (A)s a woman, a woman of color and a woman of God you have let the light of love shine on all South Carolinians.”
UPDATE (July 8): State law enforcement officials conducted threat assessments on six of the emails, State Law Enforcement Division spokesman Thom Berry said Friday. No arrests have been made.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story said no emails were forwarded for state law enforcement’s review. We regret the error.
The nation reacts
Proponents of removing the Confederate flag from State House grounds, written in emails and letters to S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley
To the point
“Please take down the Confederate Flag. You know why.”– Illinois resident
Shades of Reagan
“It is not just one evil man who committed one evil act in Charleston. It is the culture, including guns, racism, lack of education and all the rest. You are wrong to avoid and deny this reality. Start by (Reagan reference intended) ‘Take down that flag, Ms. Haley.’ ” – Marion from Rhode Island
Call to act
“Spare the nation your tears until you permanently bring down that invitation to murder blacks.” – A New York woman
“THIS IS YOUR HURRICANE KATRINA.” – A Roebuck man
Not about the Civil War
“The anger, disrespect and stalemate models provided by our government (especially in Washington) sets the tone for breeding hatred in our society. Please move the Confederate flag to a less prominent (in your face location) with the explanation and back-story from 1961 which is not from the Civil War heritage, but from courage ... which I think you have.” – Woman from Salley
“We were horrified. Suddenly, Charleston, S.C., has lost its former perceived ‘charm’ for us.” – Connecticut couple planning to spend three nights in Charleston before hearing the Confederate flag was still flying at full staff on the State House grounds after the shooting
Nothing ‘good and decent’
“While I hold the 1st Amendment dear, there are some symbols that do not represent anything good and decent to reasonable people.” – 66-year-old Ohio man who said he would no longer come to South Carolina
“You really set a gold standard as a beacon of hope and grace through horrible evil. God IS with you, and He will continue to bless you all.” – Mari Gomez
‘Great stuff about a Republican’
“I’ve got tears in my eyes and joy in my heart. I’m a lifelong Democrat, but I’m walking around saying great stuff about a Republican governor right now.” – Christine from Texas
Put it in a museum
“Keep up the work to remove this symbol of racism and hate from our state capital’s grounds. Put it in a museum or other more appropriate venue.” – John from Mount Pleasant
Millions ‘supporting you’
“Know that there are millions of people supporting you, and please refuse to be swayed by those not wanting to remove the flag. Their voices will be loud and angry, generated by hate.” – California resident
Opponents of removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds
Resist political correctness
“I hope you reconsider your stance on the flag issue and not let the politically correct crowd highjack the proud history of South Carolina and all of the South.” – Clay, lifetime member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans
Not about hate
“In my readings, I have never seen evidence that the Confederate flag represents a ‘hatred of blacks,’ as has been proclaimed by the press in the past two days.” – Florida man
‘Research the history’
“Any semi-reasonably intelligent people can research the history, origins and purpose of this emblem and rightfully (conclude) that it had nothing to do with the cause they assign to it.” – Curtis from Greenwood
No more racist than the Carolina Panthers
“This flag stands for the history and heritage of the people in this state. It has no more a racist emblem than the Carolina Panthers logo is. You were put in office to support the citizens of this state that make a contribution to society, not the cancer that wishes to politicize everything they possibly can in an effort to destroy this once great nation.” – Tom from Charleston
Flag did not pull trigger
“Where are the folks who used to have 5 cents in brains in our state? Are any of y’all so stupid to think our beloved flag killed those folks in Charleston? How about taking a step back and think how many folks think our whole state government has lost their brains and guts?” – “RT,” who described himself as an NRA benefactor
“You, Governor, helped put the shooter in that church. You, governor, fly that Confederate battle flag over the capitol. You, governor, promote legislation that puts guns in the hands of racists and murderers. You, Governor, are responsible. Not as responsible as he who pulled the trigger.” – Seattle man
A disgusted voter
“I voted for you. ... I am disgusted with you!!!! The Confederate Flag is just that! A battle flag. It represents the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the South … Who are you to diminish their valor and sacrifice? ...” – David from Rock Hill
Never another vote
“Until yesterday I have been a supporter of your agenda. Now I regret to inform you that I will NEVER cast another vote for you, or any legislator who votes to remove this symbol of heritage (not hate).” – Greer man
“That flag represents our home.” – S.C. resident, denouncing “government overreach” and Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, who called for the flag’s removal
“That flag is heritage, not hate. ... Give, give, give. What’s next? ... Pass a law to ban saggy pants. It offends me. ... Why not ban gay flags or African flags? It is hatred.” – S.C. resident
People should decide
“Please let the population vote.” – N.C. resident