Politics

South Carolina bill signed; Confederate flag will be removed Friday

State Rep. Todd Rutherford and fellow lawmakers talk to the media at the South Carolina state house July 9, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. The House passed a senate bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds Thursday morning after debating for more than 13 hours.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford and fellow lawmakers talk to the media at the South Carolina state house July 9, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. The House passed a senate bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds Thursday morning after debating for more than 13 hours.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

South Carolina's governor has signed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, more than 50 years after it was raised in protest of the civil rights movement.

Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill Thursday on the second floor of the Statehouse, where through a window the secessionist battle flag was visible outside. She was surrounded by the family members of those killed in the church shooting last month.

The law requires the flag to be removed and placed in the state's Confederate Relic Room. Haley says it will come down at 10 a.m. Friday.

The push to bring down the flag began after state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight other people were gunned down during their Bible study inside a historic black church. Police said it was racially motivated, and photographs emerged showing the suspect posing with Confederate flags.

The bill passed the state House early Thursday after 13 hours of debate. The measure requires that the flag come down within 24 hours of Haley's signature.

More than 50 years after South Carolina raised a Confederate flag at its Statehouse to protest the civil rights movement, the rebel banner will be removed Friday in a state where such a reversal seemed unthinkable a month ago.

The flag will be pulled down from the Capitol's front lawn and the flagpole it flies on during a ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday, said Chaney Adams, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. Then, the banner will be taken to the Confederate Relic Room for display.

After the House's 93-27 vote, there were hugs, tears and high fives in the chamber. Members snapped selfies and pumped their fists. But even among the celebrations, there was sadness.

After the Civil War, the flag was first flown over the dome of South Carolina's Capitol in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the war. It stayed as a protest to the Civil Rights movement, only moving in 2000 from the dome to its current location.

"I am 44 years old. I never thought I'd see this moment. I stand with people who never thought they would see this as well," said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, who called the victims martyrs. "It's emotional for us not just because it came down, but why it came down."

Republican Rep. Rick Quinn, whose amendment appeared it might at least delay the flag's removal for several hours, was happy too after getting a promise that lawmakers would find money for a special display at the Relic Room for the Confederate flag that was about to be removed as well as the one that flew over the Statehouse dome in 2000 when a compromise was passed to move the rebel banner to its current location.

"It was done in a way that was a win to everyone," said Quinn, who voted for the bill.

Republican Rep. Jenny Horne reminded her colleagues she was a descendent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and scolded fellow members of her party for stalling the debate with dozens of amendments.

She cried as she remembered Pinckney's funeral and his widow, who was hiding with one of their daughters in a church office as the gunman fired dozens of shots.

"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!" she screamed into a microphone.

She said later during a break she didn't intend to speak but got frustrated with fellow Republicans.

Opponents of removing the flag talked about grandparents who passed down family treasures and lamented that the flag had been "hijacked" or "abducted" by racists.

Rep. Mike Pitts, who remembered playing with a Confederate ancestor's cavalry sword while growing up, said that for him the flag is a reminder of how dirt-poor Southern farmers fought Yankees not because they hated blacks or supported slavery, but because their land was being invaded.

Those soldiers should be respected just as soldiers who fought in the Middle East or Afghanistan, he said, recalling his own military service. Pitts then turned to a lawmaker he called a dear friend, recalling how his black colleague nearly died in Vietnam.

Black lawmakers told their own stories of ancestors. Rep. Joe Neal talked about tracing his family back to four brothers, brought to America in chains to be bought by a slave owner named Neal who changed their last names and pulled them apart from their families.

"The whole world is asking, is South Carolina really going to change, or will it hold to an ugly tradition of prejudice and discrimination and hide behind heritage as an excuse for it," Neal said.

Other Democrats suggested any delay would let Ku Klux Klan members planning a rally July 18 a chance to dance around the Confederate flag.

Instead, Democrats were using a line Gov. Haley often says, calling it "a great day in South Carolina."

The governor issued her own statement. "It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and on," she said.

This story has been updated.