Clock ticking for Confederate flag?
The South Carolina House opened what could be its final debate over the Confederate flag Wednesday, deliberating a proposal that might remove the banner from the Capitol grounds before the end of the week.
The House is under pressure to act after the state Senate passed its own measure, which is supported by Gov. Nikki Haley. But some Republicans proposed changes to the Senate bill that would preserve some kind of symbol in front of the Statehouse to honour their Southern ancestors.
Lawmakers who want to bring down the flag are fighting the proposals because any change to the Senate bill could delay by weeks or months the flag’s removal, perhaps blunting momentum that has grown since nine black churchgoers were killed last month during Bible study at a historic African-American church in Charleston.
The House rejected four amendments to the Senate bill. All of them would take down the flag. One would have planted the state flower —yellow jasmine —where the flag currently flies on a flagpole by a monument to Confederate soldiers. Another would have set up a display case of historical flags by the monument.
Opponents of removing the flag talked about grandparents who passed down family treasures and lamented that the flag had been “hijacked” or “abducted” by racists.
Rep. Mike Pitts, who remembered playing with a Confederate ancestor’s cavalry sword while growing up, said for him the flag is a reminder of how dirt-poor Southern farmers fought Yankees not because they hated blacks or supported slavery, but because their land was being invaded.
Those soldiers should be respected just as soldiers who fought in the Middle East or Afghanistan, he said, recalling his own military service.
Pitts then turned to a lawmaker he called a dear friend, recalling how his black colleague nearly died in Vietnam.
“I’m willing to move that flag at some point if it causes a twinge in the hearts of my friends,” Pitts said. “But I’ll ask for something in return.”
The debate began less than a day after the U.S. House voted to ban the display of Confederate flags at historic federal cemeteries in the Deep South.
If House members back the Senate bill, Gov. Nikki Haley could quickly sign it into law, potentially bringing the flag down within days.
Also Wednesday, state police said they were investigating an unspecified number of threats against South Carolina lawmakers on both sides of the flag debate
The flag debate regained urgency last month after state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight others were fatally shot.
A white gunman who police said was motivated by racial hatred is charged in the attack.
“I’m willing to move that flag at some point if it causes a twinge in the hearts of my friends. But I’ll ask for something in return.” S.C. Rep. Mike Pitts