In an amazing shift of perspective, South Carolina may finally be willing to abandon its most prominent symbol of Confederate heritage after a three-week public shaming by the majority of the Union. After a 150-year effort to keep alive the spirit of the rebellion that almost destroyed the United States of America, the South Carolina Senate voted on Monday afternoon by a 37-3 measure to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds in Columbia. Due to procedural requirements, however, the legislation requires three readings in the Senate, with the final vote expected tomorrow. The pressure to remove the symbol which has remained located on the statehouse grounds for over five decades follows the recent massacre inside of Charleston’s historically prominent Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church three weeks ago. A 21 year-old white supremacist killed nine church members at a bible study. The gunman repeatedly referenced the flag and the Confederacy on a website that he purchased before the killing spree, which rekindled the public and legislative argument over the flag’s appropriateness. A fierce debate over the issue also occurred a generation ago, when in a 2000 compromise, legislators passed a law removing the flag from the Capitol dome, placing it on the Confederate Soldier’s monument instead.
The overwhelming vote, which was actually during the second reading, indicates a rapid culture shift within the state and the state government. The first reading did bring some contentious debate within the Republican-dominated chamber; however ratification of the measure is all but assured now. Senator Lee Bright (R-Roebuck) attempted to put the issue into the hands of voters, submitting an amendment to bring the issue to a statewide referendum, but that measure was tabled by a 36-3 vote. Another measure to replace the widely recognized Confederate flag with an older, First National Flag of the Confederate States, also known as “Bonnie Blue,” was also tabled 34-6. A much narrower vote also tabled an amendment introduced by Senator Danny Verdin (R-Laurens) to allow the flag to fly on the statehouse grounds for Confederate Memorial Day by a 22-17 vote. The amendments were essentially defeated as they will require a three-fifths vote to pass on the third and final reading.
Assuming the final vote passes, the debate will shift to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where such an overwhelming vote is much less certain. Powerful Speaker of the House, Jay Lucas, who represents the rural 65th district northeast of Columbia, and many other prominent Republicans have not indicated which way they will vote. The timeline for the House is also unclear, although many are urging the chamber to take swift action on the measure. Chesterfield Country Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Vincent A. Shaeen, said after the second vote, “We did our job. I do think that it sends a very loud and clear message to the House of Representatives that there is support, momentum, consensus, and I think it helps us clear the hurdles that we need to in the House of Representatives.” Governor Nikki Haley, like many of the converted Senators, was originally defiant about the “symbol of heritage,” before conducting an abrupt shift two weeks ago; stating that taking the flag down was one way to honor the lives of the nine people murdered. Haley concurred with Lucas, saying that “I applaud the Senate’s decisive action, [and] look forward to the Senate giving the bill third reading in the morning, and ask that the House act swiftly and follow the Senate’s lead.” President Obama has said that the flag “belongs in a museum,” as has 2016 Republican candidate, Jeb Bush. Fellow Republican candidate, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), has called the flag “a symbol of human bondage and slavery.”
Charleston Post and Courier – Cynthia Roldan
NBC News – Hasani Gittens
New York Times – Alan Blinder