Farewell to the flag

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley signed a bill into law Thurs­day that will bring down the Con­fed­er­ate flag out­side the State­house, a move that seemed un­think­able only a month ago in this Deep South state that was the first to se­cede from the Union.

The law re­quires the bat­tle flag to be gone within 24 hours; her staff said it would be re­moved dur­ing a cer­e­mony at 10 a.m. Fri­day and rel­e­gated to the state’s Con­fed­er­ate Relic Room.

“The Con­fed­er­ate flag is com­ing off the grounds of the South Carolina State­house,’’ Ha­ley said. “We will bring it down with dig­nity and we will make sure it is stored in its right­ful place.’’

The flag first flew over the State­house dome in 1961 to mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the Civil War and was kept there as a sym­bol of of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion to the civil rights move­ment.

Mass protests decades later led to a com­pro­mise in 2000 with law­mak­ers who in­sisted that the flag sym­bol­ized South­ern her­itage and state’s rights.

They agreed then to move it to a 30-foot pole next to a Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ment out front.

But even from that lower perch, the his­toric but di­vi­sive sym­bol re­mained clearly vis­i­ble in the cen­tre of town, and flag sup­port­ers re­mained a pow­er­ful bloc in the state.

The mas­sacre 22 days ago of nine peo­ple in­side their his­toric black church in Charleston sud­denly changed this dy­namic, not only in South Carolina but around the na­tion.

Po­lice said the shoot­ings in­side the Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church were racially mo­ti­vated, and by pos­ing with the Con­fed­er­ate flag be­fore the shoot­ings, sus­pect Dy­lann Storm Roof, who has not yet en­tered a plea to nine counts of mur­der, reignited a de­bate over the flag’s history as a sym­bol of white su­pe­ri­or­ity and racial op­pres­sion.

Ha­ley moved first, call­ing on South Carolina law­mak­ers to vote the flag down, and very quickly there­after, other Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who have long cul­ti­vated the votes of Con­fed­er­ate flag sup­port­ers were an­nounc­ing that other Civil War sym­bols no longer de­serve places of hon­our.

South Carolina’s flag re­moval bill passed easily in the Se­nate, where state Sen. Cle­menta Pinck­ney, the pas­tor gunned down at the church, had served, but was stalled by de­bate in the House as dozens of amend­ments were pro­posed.

Any changes to the Se­nate bill could have de­layed the flag’s re­moval by weeks or months, per­haps blunt­ing mo­men­tum that has grown since the mas­sacre.

AP PHOTO

Les­lie Min­erd, of Columbia, S.C., holds a sign as she cel­e­brates out­side the South Carolina State­house, Thurs­day af­ter the State voted to re­move the con­tro­ver­sial Con­fed­er­ate flag from out­side the State­house.

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