South Carolina weighs f lag is­sue

South Carolina leg­is­la­tors vote to de­bate its re­moval as pres­sure mounts.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Jarvie and Michael Muskal Jar­vey re­ported from Columbia and Muskal from Los An­ge­les. Times staff writer Kath­leen Hen­nessey in Floris­sant, Mo., con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Law­mak­ers there take the f irst steps to­ward re­mov­ing the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle ban­ner from State­house grounds.

COLUMBIA, S. C. — South Carolina law­mak­ers took their f irst steps Tues­day to re­move the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle f lag from the State­house grounds amid a grow­ing con­tro­versy over whether such sym­bols are racist or just a cel­e­bra­tion of her­itage.

As hun­dreds of protesters marched and prayed out­side, law­mak­ers in the state House and Se­nate ap­proved hold­ing a de­bate on the ban­ner, whose pres­ence has taken on new ur­gency since last week’s at­tack by a white gun­man on the land­mark black Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church. Nine African Amer­i­cans were slain, in­clud­ing the Rev. Cle­menta Pinck­ney, who was also a state sen­a­tor. His body will lie in state at the capi­tol on Wed­nes­day.

Civil rights ac­tivists had wanted the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle f lag re­moved be­fore Pinck­ney’s body was in the build­ing. But law­mak­ers couldn’t act that fast, de­spite calls to take down the f lag — from the gover­nor, both of the state’s U. S. sen­a­tors and most top politi­cians, white and black, on both sides of the aisle.

Leg­isla­tive lead­ers have yet to de­cide when to call law­mak­ers back to de­bate and vote on re­mov­ing the f lag. State Sen. Tom Davis said that de­bate was not likely un­til late July.

“We’re cap­tive to the rules here, and the rules re­quire a bill to be passed,” said Davis, a Repub­li­can. “Pro­ce­du­rally,” he said of the voice vote that moved the process along, “that was the Se­nate act­ing at light­ning speed.”

The House held a mo­ment of si­lence for Pinck­ney, then voted 103 to 10 to de­bate the f lag.

The South Carolina law that al­lows the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle f lag to f ly on State­house grounds came un­der in­tense scru­tiny af­ter the at­tack on the church June 17. Dy­lann Roof, 21, who had boasted of racist be­liefs and had posed in pho­to­graphs with Con­fed­er­ate f lags and sym­bols, is be­ing held on nine mur­der charges.

“Never again may some­one use that red rag to take peo­ple’s lives,” said the Rev. Nel­son B. Rivers III, a pas­tor and of­fi­cial with the Na­tional Ac­tion Net­work, to thun­der­ous ap­plause at the rally out­side the State­house. “Make this day — this day — the day the f lag comes down.”

The Con­fed­er­ate f lag has f lown on the grounds of the State­house for more than f ive decades. The state first raised the f lag atop the capi­tol in 1961, the cen­ten­nial of the be­gin­ning of the Civil War. The Leg­is­la­ture made the f lag’s po­si­tion of­fi­cial the next year.

Many scholars note that the reemer­gence of the f lag in South­ern states co­in­cided with — and rep­re­sented de­fi­ance against — the civil rights move­ment. Ge­or­gia in­cor­po­rated the f lag into its state f lag in 1956 — two years af­ter the U. S. Supreme Court de­clared, in Brown vs. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion of Topeka, that sep­a­rate public schools for black and white stu­dents were un­con­sti­tu­tional.

“The Con­fed­er­ate f lag sym­bol­izes more than the Civil War and the slav­ery era,” James For­man Jr., a pro­fes­sor at Yale Law School, wrote in a jour­nal ar­ti­cle about the f lag ’s history at South­ern state capi­tols. “The f lag has been adopted know­ingly and con­sciously by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials seek­ing to as­sert their com­mit­ment to black sub­or­di­na­tion.”

Repub­li­can Gov. Nikki Ha­ley re­versed her po­si­tion on the f lag Mon­day, call­ing for its re­moval from the State­house grounds.

She noted that for many South Carolini­ans, the f lag rep­re­sents noble tra­di­tions of her­itage and duty. But for many oth­ers, it is a “deeply of­fen­sive sym­bol of a bru­tally op­pres­sive past.”

Both of the state’s Repub­li­can U. S. sen­a­tors, Tim Scott and Lind­sey Graham, joined in call­ing for its re­moval. Graham, a can­di­date for the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, had pub­licly de­fended f ly­ing the f lag as re­cently as last week, be­fore na­tional po­lit­i­cal pres­sure be­gan to build from those who de­cried Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols as racist.

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, the lead­ing con­tender for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, called the Con- fed­er­ate f lag “a sym­bol of our na­tion’s racist past that has no place in our present or our fu­ture.” She praised South Carolina’s lead­ers for tak­ing steps to re­move it from the State­house grounds. “It shouldn’t f ly there. It shouldn’t f ly any­where,” she said Tues­day.

Clin­ton made the re­marks at a black church near Fer­gu­son, Mo., where a young black man, Michael Brown, was shot dead by a white po­lice of­fi­cer in Au­gust. Brown’s death launched a na­tional de­bate over race and in­equities in the jus­tice sys­tem.

Ha­ley’s an­nounce­ment led to other ac­tions in the South.

Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Demo­crat, moved on Tues­day to ban­ish the Con­fed­er­ate f lag from one of that state’s li­cense plates.

In Mis­sis­sippi, state House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Repub­li­can, called for the Con­fed­er­ate em­blem to be re­moved from that state’s f lag, to which it was first added in 1894.

In Ten­nessee, Democrats and Repub­li­cans called for the re­moval of a bust of Con­fed­er­ate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bed­ford For­rest, an early Ku Klux Klan leader, from an al­cove out­side the state Se­nate’s cham­bers.

And sev­eral com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Sears, Ama­zon and EBay, moved to fol­low Wal- Mart, which had an­nounced Mon­day that it would re­move any items from its store shelves and web­site that fea­tured the Con­fed­er­ate f lag.

John Tag­gart Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

PROTESTERS rally against the bat­tle f lag Satur­day out­side the State­house in Columbia. Calls to ban­ish Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols have con­tin­ued to grow around the South since last week’s mass shoot­ing at a black church.

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