Many see­ing more hate than her­itage in Con­fed­er­ate flag

Killings reignite a decades-old firestorm

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ABBY PHILLIP abby.phillip@wash­post.com Robert Costa, Ed O’Keefe, and Vanessa Wil­liams in Washington, Katie Zez­ima in John­ston, Iowa and Jenna John­son in Philadelphia con­trib­uted to this re­port.

charleston, s.c. — Nes­tled in a sea of flow­ers at the solemn me­mo­rial out­side the Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in down­town Charleston is a hand­writ­ten mes­sage to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley: “Take the flag down. It hurts us.”

The con­tin­ued pres­ence of a Con­fed­er­ate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state capi­tol has be­come a gal­va­niz­ing cause af­ter nine peo­ple were killed in­side a black church on Wed­nes­day.

“There is no stronger sym­bol than the flag fly­ing,” said Dot Scott, pres­i­dent of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP. “If there has ever been a time that it was se­ri­ously con­sid­ered, nowis the time.”

The man ac­cused in the killing, 21-year-old Dy­lann Roof, was ap­pre­hended Thurs­day in a ve­hi­cle bear­ing a “Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­ica” li­cense plate. Law en­force­ment author­i­ties said Satur­day he left a lengthy man­i­festo on his Web site de­tail­ing how he be­came en­am­ored with the ide­ol­ogy of white supremacy.

The flag has be­come a sym­bol of cul­tural iden­tity, pri­mar­ily for white South­ern­ers, while African Amer­i­can civil rights groups say it rep­re­sents the South’s will­ing­ness to fight a war in or­der to pre­serve slav­ery.

The Pal­metto State has for decades re­sisted calls to re­move the flag. It first was hoisted to the top of the State House in 1962, in the midst of the civil rights move­ment, just more than a cen­tury af­ter the start of the Civil War.

Af­ter more than 46,000 peo­ple marched to the state seat in Columbia in Jan­uary 2000 to protest the flag, the leg­is­la­ture reached a com­pro­mise that brought it from the dome of the State House to a spot on the grounds near a Con­fed­er­ate war me­mo­rial.

To­day, the is­sue is still sharply di­vi­sive along racial lines. A 2014 poll found that 73 per­cent of whites in South Carolina sup­port the flag’s pres­ence, while 61 per­cent of blacks say it should be re­moved.

State Rep. Nor­man “Doug” Bran­non said in an in­ter­view Satur­day that he in­tends to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to re­move the flag from the grounds in honor of his friend, col­league and Emanuel pas­tor the Rev. Cle­menta Pinck­ney, a state sen­a­tor who was killed in the Wed­nes­day at­tack.

“I’m go­ing to do it in honor of my dear friend, be­cause he was killed be­cause he was a black man,” said Bran­non, who is a Repub­li­can. “It’s some­thing that should have been done years ago.”

Bran­non said that his col­leagues have been moved by Pinck­ney’s death, and in com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­cently with fel­low Repub­li­cans, “some of them are of­fer­ing sup­port for my in­tended bill.”

For­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney re­it­er­ated his call for the flag’s re­moval on Satur­day, cit­ing the need to honor the vic­tims of the church at­tack.

“Take down the #Con­fed­er­ate­Flag at the SC Capi­tol,” Rom­ney wrote. “To many, it is a sym­bol of racial ha­tred. Re­move it now to honor #Charleston vic­tims.”

Ha­ley or­dered the U.S. flag and the state’s pal­metto flag to be flown at half-mast, but said that only the leg­is­la­ture had the power to do the same for the Con­fed­er­ate flag.

In the past, some South Carolina politi­cians have been loath to speak out against it. In2014, Ha­ley dis­missed the flag de­bate as an is­sue that hasn’t come up with busi­ness lead­ers dur­ing her term.

Af­ter the shoot­ing, how­ever, Ha­ley in­di­cated that law­mak­ers might take up the is­sue anew. “I think that con­ver­sa­tion will prob­a­bly come back up again,” she told CBS News on Fri­day. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Since the civil rights era, the de­bate about what to do with the Con­fed­er­ate flag has flared on and off in states in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia, Mis­sis­sippi and Florida.

Mis­sis­sippi is the only state that still has a Con­fed­er­ate ban­ner as part of its state flag. For­mer Mis­sis­sippi gover­nor and for­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man Ha­ley Bar­bour said that con­nect­ing the shoot­ing to the Con­fed­er­ate flag is “be­yond stretch­ing.”

“The flag didn’t have a thing in the world to do with what hap­pened,” Bar­bour said. “It is part of history, just like Ge­orge Washington, Thomas Jef­fer­son and An­drew Jack­son, who were all slave own­ers. Are we now go­ing to change the name of the Washington Mon­u­ment, too?”

As gover­nor of Florida, Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jeb Bush over­saw the re­moval of the Con­fed­er­ate flag from the Capi­tol in Tal­la­has­see. He noted in a state­ment Satur­day that he is con­fi­dent that even­tu­ally South Carolina will “do the right thing.”

“In Florida we acted, mov­ing the flag from the state grounds to a mu­seum where it be­longed,” Bush said. “Fol­low­ing a pe­riod of mourn­ing, there will rightly be a dis­cus­sion among lead­ers in the state about how South Carolina should move for­ward, and I’m con­fi­dent they will do the right thing.”

But for other Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, the flag is a thorny is­sue — es­pe­cially in a key early pri­mary state such as South Carolina.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said Satur­day that de­ci­sions about the flag are for South Carolini­ans to de­cide but that he un­der­stands “both sides” of the de­bate.

“Both those who see a history of racial op­pres­sion and a history of slav­ery, which is the orig­i­nal sin of our na­tion, and we fought a bloody civil war to ex­punge that sin,” he said. “I also un­der­stand those who want to re­mem­ber the sac­ri­fices of their an­ces­tors and the tra­di­tions of their states, not the racial op­pres­sion, but the his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tions and I think of­ten this is­sue is used as a wedge to try to di­vide peo­ple.”

Sen. Marco Ru­bio (R-Fla.) said Satur­day that it is up to the peo­ple of South Carolina, not “out­siders,” to de­cide whether to re­move the Con­fed­er­ate flag from the grounds, de­clin­ing to echo Mitt Rom­ney’s call to re­move it.

“This is an is­sue that they should de­bate and work through and not have a bunch of out­siders go­ing in and telling them what to do,” he told re­porters.

Busi­ness­woman Carly Fio­r­ina, whois also run­ning for the Rep­bli­can nom­i­na­tion, didn’t men­tion the shoot­ing dur­ing a 20-minute speech Satur­day at a Faith and Free­dom Coali­tion con­fer­ence in Washington.

But asked about Rom­ney’s com­ments af­ter her speech, she told re­porters, “Per­son­ally, I agree with him, but I be­lieve it’s up to the peo­ple of South Carolina.”

AN­DREW RENNEISEN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Nathan Brown, 26, leads protesters in chants Satur­day in Columbia, S.C. They ral­lied against the state’s Con­fed­er­ate flag, which had flown over the State­House start­ing in 1962— at the height of the civil rights era— un­til 2000, when it be­came part of a me­mo­rial on the grounds.

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