Gov. Haley: ‘Time has come’ to remove Confederate flag

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley called Monday for legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House.

Republican Haley, the state’s first minority and first woman governor, acted in the wake of the massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church last week, where nine people, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, were killed by a 21-year-old white supremacist.

“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” Haley said. “One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War . . . the time has come.”

S.C. legislators return to Columbia Tuesday for a special session to pass the state budget and could add the flag issue to their agenda. They then could debate the issue when they return to Columbia in July to handle budget vetoes.

Still, removing the controversial emblem could be difficult. State law requires two-thirds of House and Senate members must vote to move the flag.

Haley said Monday she will call lawmakers back to Columbia this summer if they do not act.

In 2000, the flag was moved from the State House’s Capitol dome, where it had flown since 1962, to behind a monument to Confederate soldiers located in front of the State House, at the intersection of Gervais and Main streets.

However, that compromise did not end protests about the flag's presence. The NAACP called for a tourist boycott of the state, and S.C. Democratic leaders have asked repeatedly for the flag's removal.

Haley was joined Monday by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Republicans present included U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of Seneca and Tim Scott of Charleston; U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford of Charleston and Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach; and state Sen. John Courson of Richland County. Democrats included U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, Mayor Joe Riley of Charleston and S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford of Richland County.

Rutherford said he had never seen a bipartisan effort as strong.

“We’re going to try to carry on Senator Pinckney’s legacy and make South Carolina a better place,” Rutherford said, adding the state will “not allow the Confederate battle flag to determine our future as much as it has stained our past.”

After working with House leaders the past few days, Rutherford said he thinks the House is ready to vote to take down the flag.

“Now is the time to put people above politics,” said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland. “We lost nine souls during this tragedy, and I look forward to having the conversations with my colleagues to put this issue to rest in the coming weeks."

In a statement, House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said: “Moving South Carolina forward from this terrible tragedy requires a swift resolution of this issue.”

Haley’s action Monday came after local and national calls for the flag’s removal.

After Wednesday’s mass slaying, more than 1,500 people gathered at a hastily organized rally Saturday at the State House to demand the flag’s removal.

National political leaders also joined that call.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat, said he thinks the flag belongs in a museum.

Over the weekend, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, R-Mass., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the leading contenders for the GOP’s 2016 nomination, said they supported removing the flag.

Other GOP candidates for president — Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — quickly endorsed Haley’s call Monday.

Earlier Monday, Charleston leaders — including Mayor Riley, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, and Democratic state Reps. Leon Stavrinakis and Wendell Gilliard, and state Sen. Marlon Kimpson — called for the flag’s removal at a news conference.

University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides, athletics director Ray Tanner and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley also called for the flag to come down on Monday as did Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

For many people, the Confederate flag stands for noble traditions of history, heritage, and ancestry, Haley said Monday.

“The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect, and in many ways, revere it,” she said. “At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

And, she added, the State House’s grounds should belong to all South Carolinians.

Haley hinted there was urgency for lawmakers to act.

“July Fourth is just around the corner,” she said. “Soon we will once again celebrate the birth of our nation and our freedoms. It will be fitting that our state Capitol will soon fly the flags of our country and of our state, and no others.”

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

The Confederate flag at the State House

1961: In the midst of the civil rights movement, S.C. marks the centennial of the Civil War by flying a Confederate flag on a flag pole on the roof of the State House, underneath the U.S. and S.C. flags. Until then, no flags flew on the dome.

1962: The Democratic-controlled state Legislature passes a resolution placing the Confederate flag on the State House dome.

1994: The NAACP says it will organize national economic sanctions against South Carolina unless the flag is removed.

1996: Then-Gov. David Beasley, a Republican, proposes moving the flag to a monument on the State House grounds. Legislators reject the idea.

1997: In Columbia, 500 religious leaders march in support of moving the flag.

1998: Democrat Jim Hodges beats incumbent Beasley, winning votes from flag supporters who thought Beasley had betrayed them.

1999: The national NAACP calls for tourists to boycott South Carolina until the flag is removed. Also, “King Day at the Dome,” a march on the State House on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is started to protest the flag. The event continues each January.

2000: Demonstrations for and against the flag occur at the State House, including 6,000 flag supporters and more than 46,000 people who demand its removal. Lawmakers pass a law that Hodges signs to move the flag to a pole at the Confederate Soldier Monument, on the State House’s front lawn.

2015: Republican Gov. Nikki Haley urges S.C. lawmakers to remove the flag from the State House grounds.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC