COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Senate voted today 37-3 to remove the Confederate flag from flying above the statehouse. The required two-thirds majority voted on third reading to move the flag to the Relics Museum inside the capitol. The S.C. House vote, which could come as early as tomorrow, is expected to be more contentious. Supporters have been out in force saying the image is a part of the state’s heritage, citing a recent poll that said 57 percent of Americans associate the image with Southern pride more than racism.
This afternoon though, a few dozen Confederate flag protesters, heavily from outside South Carolina and organized by Moveon.org, held a press conference outside the S.C. statehouse. Moveon.org is a liberal advocacy organization that raises money and attention for left-leaning causes.
“I think this vote is wonderful. We are halfway there,” said Suzanne Kalble, a nurse from St. Louis, Mo. “I wasn’t old enough during the civil rights movement, so I’ve waited my whole life for this.”
The protest groups, led by New Jersey resident Karen Hunter, were delivering petitions they say contained more than 570,000 signatures demanding the removal of the Confederate flag from all S.C. government property.
Also on hand were members of the South Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They said it feels like they’ve been standing outside the state house teaching history lessons for two days.
“We’re out here teaching history to people who don’t seem to know it. How can you protest something you don’t even know about?” said Michael Whitaker of Lexington, S.C. “They told us to keep a low profile, but I had to come out here and represent the flag of my ancestors. More than 20 of my ancestors fought for the Confederacy, but they didn’t own slaves, most people didn’t. They were fighting for their state’s rights.”There were tense words and a noticeable police presence during the demonstration. One officer said that the out-of-town protester presence has grown as media attention has.
“Everyone is here trying to be as peaceful as we can,” said Whitaker. “This is what this country is about, everyone getting their point across.”
The S.C. House is expected to be more supportive of keeping the flag, or even a compromise. S.C. House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville) said that several members have proposed flying a different flag that honors the state’s confederate history. House Democrats say they won’t support a measure that permits an alternative Confederate flag to fly at the capitol.
The S.C. General Assembly’s special session was called after Gov. Nikki Haley (R) publicly stated that the flag should come down in the wake of a shooting last month in Charleston that killed nine people. Authorities allege that Dylann Roof shot and killed members of a prayer group inside the Emanuel African Methodist Church. Roof, who stands indicted for nine counts of murder, had used the Confederate battle flag among other images on his Facebook page.