The World Was Watching: Tragedy, triumph spell Confederate flag's end on State House grounds

The World Was Watching: Tragedy, triumph spell Confederate flag's end on State House grounds

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Fifty-four years of history came to a close with the permanent removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House. The flag's history on State House grounds ended on Friday at 10 a.m. after weeks of mourning, days of sometimes heated debate, and the passage of a bill from both the House and the Senate that permanently furled the flag.

The vote came in the weeks following the racially-charged shooting of nine African-American parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. One of the victims in that shooting was Sen. Clementa Pinckney -- a popular, well-respected lawmaker who was a reverend at the church. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, 21, told investigators he was hoping the shooting would start a race war.

With the vote, the flag will now be moved to the Confederate Relic Room at the South Carolina State Museum.

The flag's beginnings at the State House

The flag's history at the State House began in 1962 with a vote by state lawmakers to place it above the dome for the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. Some, however, say state lawmakers' reasons to raise the flag were in direct response to the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960's.

Mobile users, tap here to see a photo timeline of the Confederate flag's history on the State House grounds.

From there, the flag remained atop the State House until 2000, when talks of economic boycotts against the state because of the flag reached a fever pitch. Legislators moved to debate the issue and eventually settled on a compromise that removed the flag from the dome and placed it at the nearby Confederate Soldier Monument on Gervais Street.

African-American leaders, however, were not happy with the compromise and elected to boycott the state until the flag was completely removed from the State House grounds

How we got here

Calls to remove the flag from the State House grounds continued in the years that followed. Bills were filed, rallies were held, and phone calls were made to lawmakers but efforts to remove the flag went nowhere.

It wasn't until the massacre in Charleston that everything changed. As the state flag and the American flag flew at half-staff after the shooting, many noticed the Confederate flag remained at full-staff. The flag even remained waving during Sen. Pinckney's public viewing at the State House.

Flag protestors immediately mobilized and held several rallies to bring down the flag. Thousands showed up the State House grounds to ask lawmakers to remove the flag.

Mobile users, tap here to view photos from the rallies.

Many wondered, however, if any action could be taken considering the 2000 compromise law created such a mountain to remove the flag in the form of a necessary supermajority vote of both the House and Senate.

Then, Gov. Nikki Haley stepped in. In a news conference where she was surrounded by Democrats and Republicans just days after the shooting, she called for the flag's outright removal -- a stunning reversal from her previous position where she famously said that no CEOs had ever complained about the flag.

"There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment," Haley said. "I respect that, but know this. For good and for bad whether it is on the State House grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina. But this is a moment that we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state."

Legislative pressure

With Haley throwing her support behind removing the flag, the focus turned to lawmakers and whether or not they had the will to remove the flag.

The Senate acted first, with Sen. Vincent Sheheen and several other senators drafting Senate Bill 897 -- the bill that would take down the flag from its pole at the State House and place it in the Confederate Relic Room. A majority of senators immediately signed on to co-sponsor it.

However, two senators attempted to add several amendments to the bill, which many saw as tactics to delay it.

State Sen. Lee Bright proposed two amendments: one to pull down the current Confederate flag and replace it with another Civil War-era flag and the other to put the debate up for a public referendum. Both amendments were tabled.

"To think that removing this flag will eliminate racism in our state and our nation is like going to edge of the Atlantic and thinking you can drink the whole ocean," Bright said.

State Sen. Danny Verdin also tried to add an amendment to the bill, allowing for the flag to fly in front of the State House only on Confederate Memorial Day. It was also tabled.

Debate in the Senate lasted for several days and hours before senators gave their approval to the bill in a final 36-3 vote to send the bill to the House of Representatives, where it would also need a two-thirds majority vote.

Senators and House Democrats began applying pressure to the House immediately, asking them not to add any amendments to the bill and pass it cleanly.

"We want to honor the legacy of our fallen comrade and have a clean bill," said House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford.

Several House members, however, ignored that plea and pledged to bury the bill with amendments. Rep. Mike Pitts alone proposed 26 amendments to the bill in the beginning, saying he would bring debate to a "grinding halt."

And that's exactly what happened. While Pitts removed many of his amendments as debate went on, he and other House lawmakers would add dozens more.

House Democrats responded, using legislative tactics to have many of the amendments jettisoned because they had nothing to do with the flag issue or calling for votes to table amendments.

With debate on the bill drifting into the late hours of Wednesday evening and lawmakers growing considerably more frustrated at the lack of action and posturing, Charleston Rep. Jenny Horne brought new life into the debate with a speech haranguing her fellow lawmakers.

A visibly emotional Horne let lawmakers have it.

"If any of you vote to amend," she shouted, "You are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday. And for the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury. And I will not be a part of it."

"If we amend this bill, we are telling the people of Charleston we don't care about you. We do not care that someone used this symbol of hate to slay eight innocent people who were worshiping their God," Horne continued.

"I have it on good authority that the world is watching this debate. And there is an economic development prospect in Dorchester County that is in jeopardy because we refused to act," Horne continued. "Remove this flag and do it today."

House lawmakers were particularly caught up in one amendment that would find money for a special place in the Confederate Relic Room. However, legislators found a way to push that issue off until they return in January. Quinn was pleased with that promise.

"It was done in a way that was a win to everyone," Quinn said.

Hours later and every single amendment put up against it vanquished, House lawmakers finally voted 93-27 to bring the flag down.

An exhausted House Speaker Jay Lucas said he was proud of the House for its work despite the often contentious debate.

"This was a tough, lengthy debate, but we agreed to put our differences aside in order to reach the swift resolution we promised the people of South Carolina. I am proud of our membership and the decision we made to move our state forward," Lucas said.

The end

Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill the next afternoon at 4 p.m. Surrounded by family members of those who died in the Charleston shooting, Haley's signature put an end to the flag's 50+ year reign on State House grounds.

"Nine amazing people that forever changed South Carolina's history. Having said that, I have to acknowledge the series of events that took place through all of this, because it is the true story of South Carolina. The actions of what took place will go down in the history books," Haley said.

"So 22 days ago, I didn't know if I would ever be able to say this again, but today I am very proud to say that it is a great day in South Carolina."

An honor guard helped to bring the flag down at 10 a.m. during a brief, 15-minute ceremony.

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