Lawmakers moving from Confederate row to grief
Lawmakers who agreed to consider removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Statehouse are now saying goodbye to a beloved black colleague whose death in a mass church shooting has reignited debate about Civil War symbols in the South.
State Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s open coffin will be on display in the Statehouse Rotunda on Wednesday, officials said. After senators voted on Tuesday to hold a debate later this summer on whether to remove the flag, they gathered by Pinckney’s desk, still draped in black, and signed up for 30-minute shifts beside his body so he wouldn’t be alone.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the eulogy at Pinckney’s funeral Friday morning at the College of Charleston.
Gov. Nikki Haley has called for moving the Confederate flag to a museum.
South Carolina’s action inspired other politicians around the South to swiftly target the flag, a divisive symbol. Most said change is necessary after the 21-year-old suspect in the shooting of nine black churchgoers appeared in photographs brandishing the flag as a symbol of hate.
Dylann Roof, who faces murder and gun charges in the church attack, had told a friend he was planning to do something “for the white race.”
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called for removing the Confederate emblem from the state flag. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants license plates depicting the Confederate flag to be replaced. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for the removal of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky state Capitol’s rotunda.
Big businesses also took action: Wal-Mart and eBay announced they would no longer sell merchandise featuring the Confederate flag, which eBay called a “contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism.”
Outside South Carolina’s Statehouse, hundreds chanted “Bring it down! Bring it down!”
Very few lawmakers rose to defend the flag, although some said they were saving their speeches for what promises to be an emotional debate later this summer.
The Confederate battle flag was placed atop the Statehouse dome in 1961 for the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and lawmakers decided to keep it there in 1962 in response to the civil rights movement. After mass protests, it was moved to a flagpole next to a Confederate monument out front in 2000.