A new day in South Carolina- taking down the Confederate flag
The Confederate battle flag is gone from the South Carolina State House.
The white-bordered, square banner bearing the St. Andrew’s cross was lowered for the last time Friday in front of the Confederate Soldier Monument by an honor guard of seven S.C. Highway Patrol officers.
They folded and rolled up the 4-foot flag. Troopers marched to the north steps and handed the flag to Allen Roberson, director of the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, where the banner will eventually go on display.
The flag was driven to the museum by police escort a mile west on Gervais Street from the State House.
Later Friday, State House crews removed the last noteworthy remains of the flag display. The 30-foot flagpole and decorative black iron fence were taken down at 2 p.m. and sent into storage in the historic former mill where the Relic Room resides.
The seven-minute flag removal ceremony drew an estimated 10,000 onlookers who filled sidewalks and lawns on the north side of the State House and spilled into Gervais Street.
Some in the crowd chanted shortly before the event, “Take it down.” Cheers rose when the troopers started to make their way to the flagpole along the lawn that separates the north stairs and the soldier monument.
The crowd became quiet as one of the members of the honor guard cranked the wheel on the flagpole. When banner started to slide down, the crowd erupted and chanted, “USA, USA.”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley watched the historic ceremony from the Capitol steps with former Govs. David Beasley and Jim Hodges.
“It felt like this massive weight just lifted off the state,” Haley said afterward. “It was an emotional day. It was a time of allowing people to respect their heritage in the proper place –which is a museum – but also allowing South Carolina to move forward. It’s a new day in South Carolina.”
The governors and spectators saw an era end when the flag came down at 10:09 a.m.
The Confederate battle flag had flown at the Capitol for more than five decades after being raised in 1961 to honor the 100-year anniversary of the Civil War, which started at Fort Sumter in Charleston.
The flag remained atop the State House dome under the United States and South Carolina state flags as the South wrestled against federal civil rights measures.
Some state lawmakers and activists spent years trying to remove the flag from South Carolina’s most prominent building.
They won a compromise in 2000 when the Confederate flag was taken off the dome and a battle banner was raised at the soldier monument along Gervais Street.
The flag was removed for good after the shooting deaths of nine African-American churchgoers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church last month.
The tragedy that shocked the nation prompted Haley to call for the flag’s banishment.
State lawmakers joined her. They voted this week to banish the banner despite objections from some legislators who argued the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy did not represent that hate demonstrated by the accused shooter.
The influence of the Charleston tragedy was evident during the Confederate flag ceremony Friday in Columbia.
Haley and the former governors were joined by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and the Rev. Norvel Goff – who has taken over at Emanuel after its pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, died in the shootings on June 17.
The same state Highway Patrol color guard that took down the flag had escorted Pinckney’s casket to the State House last month.
Haley said she hoped the flag’s removal gave some peace to the families of the Charleston shooting victims and those who had fought for a long time to bring it down. The governor said she plans to have a campaign, similar to her anti-bullying initiative, about what bringing down the flag means and how the Emmanuel victims forever changed the history of South Carolina.
“What do we do when the emotions start to fade, and how do we make sure that this feeling that we have, and the ability to bring people together for the good of everyone continues?” she asked.
The ceremony was peaceful. No arrests were made, though authorities responded to a few people who passed out from the morning heat, SLED Chief Mark Keel said.
The flag’s removal was a long time coming for many in the crowd.
Gail Jones, 55, of West Columbia, recalled marching from Charleston to Columbia in 2000 with Riley as part of an effort to get the Confederate flag off the dome of the State House.
“I just feet exuberant. All the walking I did was not done in vain – all 125 miles of it,” Jones said.
Some Confederate flag supporters were sprinkled among onlookers. H.K. Edgerton, an African-American man wearing a Civil War artillery uniform and waving a Confederate flag, engaged in heated debates with spectators regarding his support for the banner.
The Confederate battle flag is the “pride of Southern people” and the X on the flag is a Christian symbol, he argued. When questioned whether he was pro-slavery, Edgerton quoted the Bible and told his questioner to open a history book, before answering, “No.”
State Rep. Gary Clary, a retired Circuit Court judge from Pickens and freshman Republican lawmaker who was among the first legislators to call for the flag to come down in the wake of the shooting, brought his 13-year-old grandson Conner Pederson to witness the momentous day.
Clary said that now South Carolina can focus on important issues such as roads, education, mental health and economic development: “This allows us to move forward into the 21st century.”
Getting rid of the Confederate flag at the State House shows a growing awareness that symbols wound others, said Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. NAACP.
“People will lie and tell you symbols don’t matter. If they don’t, take your Christian cross around your neck and throw it in the trash,” he said. “You saw the crowd out here. You think people would come out here today on a work day if it didn’t mean anything? People know the pain and suffering that symbol has caused.”
Beasley, who lost a re-election bid in 1998 in part because he fought to take down the flag, said he was overwhelmed.
‘What an amazing day – and the emotions, yes, the flag being relegated to its proper place in history – but the greatest emotion was coming from seeing all the people standing out there, black and white, Democrat and Republican, united together in love, forgiveness and reconciliation,” he said.
Beasley said he thought he would see a day when the Confederate flag would no longer have a place at the State House.
“I didn’t know when, and obviously God’s own time is not my own timing, but it was worth the wait.”
Staff writers John Monk and Erin Shaw contributed.