COLUMBIA – Gov. Nikki Haley called on the state’s Legislature to remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the Statehouse on Monday, vowing to call the members back into an emergency session if they can’t dispatch a measure to remove it.
Flanked by a political contingency that included U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford and a crowd of at least a dozen more, Haley spoke first about the healing process that South Carolina has been undergoing since last Wednesday when nine people died after being shot during a Bible study at the historical Mother Emanuel in Charleston.
Among those killed was S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
“Fifteen years ago, after much contentious debate, South Carolina came together in a bipartisan way to remove the flag from atop the Capitol dome,” Haley said. “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. One hundred fifty years after the end of the Civil War … the time has come.”
Her statement was met with rousing applause by those in attendance.
Haley called attention to the strength South Carolina has shown since the shootings last Wednesday night that left a state – and a nation – in shock.
“We have stared evil in the eye and watched good, prayerful people killed in the most sacred of places. We were hurt and broken. We needed to heal,” she said. “We were able to start that process not by talking about issues that divide us but by holding vigils, hugging our neighbors, honoring those we lost, and falling to our knees in prayer. Our state is grieving. But we are also coming together.”
South Carolina, she said, has come together in the faces of tragedy.
“In just the last few months, the nation watched our state go through another time of crisis, when we dealt with the betrayal of one of our own in the tragic shooting of Walter Scott,” Haley said. “South Carolina did not respond with rioting and violence, like other places have. We responded by talking to each other, putting ourselves in each other’s shoes, and finding common ground in the name of moving our state forward.
“The result: both Republicans and Democrats, black and white, came together and passed the first body camera bill in the country,” she said.
Haley acknowledged that South Carolina has had a “tough history” when it comes to matters of race.
“Many of us have seen it in our own lives, and in the lives of our parents and grandparents. We don’t need reminders,” she said. “In spite of last week’s tragedy, we have come a long way since those days, and have much to be proud of. But we can always do more.”
While most South Carolinians view the Confederate Flag that flies on the Statehouse grounds as a symbol of traditions that are noble, traditions of history, of heritage and of ancestry, there are others – like 21-year-old Dylann Roof, the man charged with nine counts of murder in the Charleston church shooting – who have what Haley called 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,” the governor said. “Those South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity, and duty. They also see it as a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during a time of great conflict.”
At the same time, she said, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is an offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.
Removing the flag from the Statehouse doesn’t mean one group wins the debate and one group loses. Instead, she said, the state respects each resident’s freedom of expression and will not stand in the way of anyone who wants to display the flag on their property.
“But the Statehouse is different. And the events of the past week call upon all of us to look at this in a different way,” she said. “There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment. I respect that. But know this. For good and for bad, whether it is on the Statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina.”
Haley also said she expects the House and Senate to take up the issue before the current legislative session recesses for the summer. And if they don’t, Haley indicated she would call an emergency session for the Legislature to discuss removing the flag.
“The evil we saw last Wednesday comes from a place much deeper, much darker,” Haley said. “But we are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is a something we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds – it is, after all, a Capitol that belongs to all of us.”