COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - "Take it down!"
Demonstrators chanted at a rally Tuesday to encourage the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds.
The NAACP, National Action Network and other groups opposed to the flag gathered at the Confederate Memorial Monument to ask legislators to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House.
"We've come today. We're past due time," said Rev. Nelson Rivers with the National Action Network. "It is more than time."
The outrage over the flag was reignited after the murders last week of nine people at Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Among the victims was South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
Rivers says as Pinckney lies in state Wednesday in the State Capitol, "We are asking every member of the Senate, every member of the House to decide to make this the day that the flag comes down."
"We do not need to wait for January," said Rep. Harold Mitchell, Jr. (D-Spartanburg County). "We can't wait until January. We need to move now. We need to move swift. We can't wait and we're not going to wait."
Although there has been persistent outcry over the last several decades to remove the flag from the State House grounds, the issue came to a head last week when photos surfaced of Dylann Roof, the man charged in the murders of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, waving the Confederate flag. Roof said he wanted the shootings to spark a race war.
"If you were to ride through many of the back roads and major roads in the state of South Carolina you will see that Confederate flag being flown," Rep. Joseph H. Jefferson Jr. (D- Berkeley County) told the crowd. "But guess where you see it most of the time? The old run-down houses. The old trailers. People who really don't deserve to have any kind of flag in front of their houses."
"That young man who shot and killed those nine people the other day, he made the comment. He said minorities are dumb and ignorant. But look at his credentials," Jefferson said. "He's a dropout. No driver's license. Not married."
Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort, Hilton Head) referred to the national media coverage of the Walter Scott shooting two months ago, and the national attention South Carolina is getting again.
"In the aftermath of Walter Scott's murder, we didn't respond with violence and rioting and hatred," Davis said. "We came back and passed the nation's first body camera bill for police officers...we have a chance now in the wake of his death to rise up and do positive as well."
While there were many who supported the idea of the flag being removed, there were others at Tuesday's rally that disagreed. Confederate flag supporters gathered underneath the Confederate monument where they voiced their pleas for the flag to stay where it is. They said the flag is a symbol of southern heritage and a part of the monument for those who died fighting for the South in the Civil War.
"The people of South Carolina said remove the flag off the top of the state capital," John Miller said. "They removed it off the top of the capitol and placed it here. It is a war memorial. Take down this war memorial. Take down all the rest of the war memorials."
Less than two hours after the rally, South Carolina legislators voted 103 to 10 to amend the 'sine die' resolution to allow debate on the Confederate flag's placement on the State House grounds.
"It's been a year of tragedy. But one thing that has been evident to me and evident to a lot of folks is that we, the people of South Carolina, are resilient and we are working to make the state of South Carolina better every day." said Rep. Justin T. Bamberg (D-Bamberg, Barnwell and Colleton Counties). As an attorney, Bamberg represents the family of Walter Scott.
"Look around. What do you see? You see black people. You see white people," he said. "You see biracial, multiracial, multiple ethnicities. You see old. You see young. You see rich people. You see poor people. Today represents that which is good about South Carolina. That is, in the midst of tragedies, we will be pulled together. We will not be torn apart. Look around. This is what progress looks like."