Gone But Not Forgotten: South Carolina to Lower Confederate Flag
Activists say the removal of the flag, long a symbol of racial hatred, should be done without fanfare
After decades of prominent display on the Statehouse grounds, in a matter of days the Confederate Flag will no longer fly in Columbia, South Carolina.
Early Thursday, the state House of Representatives voted to permanently remove the Confederate battle flag, following a similar vote by the Senate on Monday. Republican Governor Nikki Haley, who pushed for passage of legislation mandating the flag's removal, said she will hold a ceremony to sign the bill into law Thursday afternoon.
For years, there have been calls to retire the contentious flag—widely seen as an emblem of the Old South and its racist legacy. However, the racially-motivated June 17 shooting of nine black churchgoers renewed calls for its lowering in South Carolina and elsewhere.
In late June, activist Bree Newsome scaled the Statehouse flagpole and removed the flag, telling onlookers: "We can't wait any longer." She was arrested for that act.
Following the House vote on Thursday, Newsome took to Twitter say that, while the removal of the flag is a good step, the legacy of racism and "state-sanctioned white supremacy" that surrounds the symbol and allowed it to persist for so long has yet to be rectified.
The flag was raised at SC Capitol in 1961, basically as a middle finger to civil rights and integration.— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) July 9, 2015
We weren't only reacting to Charleston Massacre, but state-sanctioned white supremacy, which is what that flag in Columbia represents— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) July 9, 2015
If you're not going to repudiate what the Confederacy stood for or repudiate white supremacy, you're not really taking down the flag.— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) July 9, 2015
Further, Newsome also critized the politicians and journalists who isolated the impact of the flag to one racist incident. She also and called for it to be lowered quietly, with zero "pageantry."
Shame on politicians who try to frame the flag issue as tho it began w Dylan Roof & shame on any journalists who don't challenge them on it— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) July 9, 2015
I don't think the removal of that flag should have any pageantry involved whatsoever. Just take it down like Alabama did.— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) July 9, 2015
She added that if there is a ceremony, "let it be a black child from Columbia, South Carolina who removes the flag and then instead of devoting energy to debating what will replace the flag, the focus should be on making a better future for that child."
The South Carolina House also Thursday passed a bill that directs the flag to be placed in the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
Ahead of the vote, a handful of House Republicans attempted to thwart the move by proposing a number of amendments, including one that replaced the Confederate battle flag with a similar historic flag.
In an impassioned speech before the two votes, State Rep. Jenny Horne, who had attended the funeral of shooting victim state Senator Clementa Pinckney, blasted her fellow Republicans for trying to derail the effort.
"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." In a warning to lawmakers planning to vote in favor of the divisive amendments, she continued, "you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday. And for the widow of Senator Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury and i will not be a part of it."
Horney added, "We need to follow the example of the Senate, remove this flag and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age."
The NAACP also applauded the vote and said the group will now move to end its 15-year economic boycott of the state, launched over the prominence of the Confederate flag. In a statement, NAACP president and CEO, Cornell William Brooks, said the symbol should be removed, but not forgotten.
"The confederate battle flag as a symbolic stain of racism has been dismissed from the state capital grounds and may now be deposited to a museum," said Brooks. "This flag should be studied and no longer honored."