Surrounded by South Carolina’s congressional delegation and bipartisan representatives, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) declared today that the Confederate flag outside of the state capitol needs to go.
Haley acknowledged that many see the flag as a symbol of their heritage, and stressed that it doesn’t automatically make them racist.
But, she said, “150 years after the end of the Civil War the time has come” to take the flag down.
Haley said she’s spoken with leaders in the state house and senate to let them know that if they do not make sure the debate to pull the flag down takes place this summer she will use her authority to call them into session expressly for that purpose. A two-thirds majority is needed under state law to take down the flag.
“The time for action is coming soon,” she said.
Haley was flanked by Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), whom she hugged after her announcement, as well as Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was also standing behind Haley, as well as Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
“This has been a very difficult time for our state; we have stared evil in the eye,” Haley said in reference to last week’s massacre at the Emanuel AME Church by a white supremacist.
“Our state is grieving but we are also coming together,” the governor said, noting that the victims’ families and their “expression of faith and forgiveness took our breath away.”
Haley took her family to the church for services yesterday, and “my children saw what true faith looks like.”
She stressed that after Walter Scott was shot in the back by a North Charleston police office in April, South Carolina “did not respond with rioting and violence like other places have … both Republicans and Democrats, black and white, came together and passed the first body camera bill in the country.”
That law was championed by Sen. Scott, who grew up in North Charleston.
Haley said “history is often filled with emotion, and that’s more true in South Carolina than a lot of other places.”
It’s a “tough history” on matters of race, she noted, and “we don’t need reminders” of what past generations have endured.
“We have come a long way since those days and have much to be proud of, but there’s more we can do.”
The governor said “the hate-filled murderer” who carried out the church massacre had a “sick and twisted view of the flag,” appropriating it for white supremacy.
Haley said there are other South Carolinians who revere and view the flag as a symbol of “respect, integrity and duty” and see its display as a “way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict.”
“That is not hate, nor is it racism,” she said.
However, she then noted, many in the state view the Confederate flag as a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
The state can be “home to both of those viewpoints,” Haley said. “We do not need to declare a winner and a loser here.”
“We respect freedom of expression, and that for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way,” she said.
But “the statehouse is different,” and “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.”
“There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment; I respect that,” Haley acknowledged, noting “that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”
“By removing this symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony, and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in heaven.”
In a message to the nation, Haley stressed that “this will be South Carolina’s decision,” and the voices of flag proponents “will be heard and their role in this debate will be respected.”
She asked that the focus remain on the victims of the AME church shooting, and stressed that the racism that propelled Dylann Roof to try to start a race war won’t be healed just by taking the flag down.
“Some divisions are bigger than a flag… 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 something that 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,” Haley said.
The RNC issued a statement from Priebus after Haley’s announcement saying that “this flag has become too divisive and too hurtful for too many of our fellow Americans.”
“While some say it represents different things to different people, there is no denying that it also represents serious divisions that must be mended in our society,” Priebus said. “For South Carolina, taking down this Confederate flag is a step in mending those divisions. Our future must be better than our past. We are not meant to be a country divided by racial tensions; we are meant to be a country that stands united.”
Graham called it “only appropriate that we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag.”
“I hope that, by removing the flag, we can take another step towards healing and recognition – and a sign that South Carolina is moving forward,” Graham said.
Scott said he does not believe “the vast majority of folks who support the flag have hate in their hearts. Their heritage is a part of our state’s history, and we should not ignore that.”
“However, for so many others in our state, the flag represents pain and oppression,” the senator added. “Because of that, as a lifelong South Carolinian, as someone who loves this state and will never call anywhere else home, I believe it is time for the flag to come down.”