After a raucous 13-hour debate Wednesday bleeding into Thursday morning, South Carolina’s House of Representatives voted to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds by a 94-20 margin in the bill’s required third reading, passing despite a last-minute attempt to delay the measure by proposing a barrage of amendments. The quick action in legislative terms comes three weeks after a 21 year-old white supremacist shot and killed 9 churchgoers inside of Charleston’s historical Emanuel AME Church. The killer had repeatedly referenced the flag and the Confederacy in a website attributed to him as the impetuous for the killing spree. The Senate had already voted by a 36-3 margin on Tuesday to remove the flag upon Governor Nikki Haley’s request to honor the memories of those killed. Haley will sign the bill into law at 4 PM Thursday, and the flag will come down at 10 AM Friday morning as part of a ceremony. Provisions in the bill require the flag’s removal within 24 hours of the bill’s signing into law. As part of a compromise between Republicans and Democrats in the House, the flag will be placed in the nearby Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. President Obama and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, have both publicly stated that the flag “belongs in a museum.”
Wednesday’s debate in the house was full of high-drama, as legislators proposed a series of amendments geared toward delaying the measure. Republican Rep. Michael Pitts led the push to delay the measure by speaking at length on each amendment. In one occasion, Pitts defended the flag and the Civil War, saying “Some call it the war between the states; some call it the Civil War. Growing up, in my family, it was called the war of Northern aggression; it was where the Yankees attacked the South, and that’s what was ingrained in me growing up.” The most contentious amendment, however, involved the flag’s ultimate resting place. Republican Rick Quinn’s amendment to alter the language of the bill to include the placing of the flag in the aforementioned museum brought about the most debate; however Quinn ultimately agreed to propose a separate piece of legislation in order to not delay the flag vote. Some like Republican Jonathon Hill, who voted against the bill, fear that this vote will cause a push to attack all things Confederate. Following the vote, Hill announced that he will not be attending Friday’s ceremony due to previous obligations and said, “Hopefully it ends here, and we move forward, and we can put all of this behind us.” The Confederate flag was placed on the statehouse grounds more than 50 years ago in a protest of civil rights legislation.
Although representatives took the floor discussing both the state’s heritage and the racist overtones that the flag represents, it was Dorchester County Republican Jenny Horne, a descendent of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, who gave the most impassioned speech on the House floor. Horne’s speech essentially sealed the removal vote. Speaking between sobs, Horne motioned to her black colleagues, saying, “I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body …to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday.” Horne continued, “And if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday. And for the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury, and I will not be a part of it.” State Senator Clementa Pinckney was the pastor of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Horne added, “I have heard enough about heritage.” Before walking away from the podium amid embraces from her black colleagues, Horne concluded, “Remove this flag and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age.” Horne has become an instant star in social media circles for her impassioned plea. Democratic Representative Grady Brown, whose ancestors also fought for the Confederacy, said, “I’m doing what I’m going to do, to vote to take the flag down, because I think it is in God’s eyes, the right thing to do.” Democrat Wendell Gilliard concurred saying, “The right thing to do is what we call the healing thing: the gentle laying down of the past, and a hopeful road to the future.”
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