The effort to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds is riding strong momentum.
The governor is for it. Nearly all state senators are backing it. And petitioners are collecting signatures by the hundreds of thousands.
A final Senate vote of 36-3 sent the bill to the House late Tuesday morning.
“The South Carolina Senate … rose to this historic occasion, with a large majority of members from both parties coming together in the spirit of unity and healing that is binding our state back together and moving us forward in the right direction,” Gov. Nikki Haley said after a procedural vote on Monday’s afternoon.
“I applaud the Senate’s decisive action … and ask that the House act swiftly and follow the Senate’s lead.”
Momentum to take down the flag quickly grew after a deadly shooting at a predominantly black church in Charleston last month.
After the self-confessed shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was arrested the next day in North Carolina, a Web page surfaced showing a racist manifesto and 60 photos of Roof, some of which showed him waving the Confederate flag.
Counting the votes
A two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly would be necessary for the measure to reach Haley’s desk.
According to a survey of lawmakers by The Charleston Post and Courier, South Carolina’s legislature has enough votes to remove the Confederate flag from Capitol grounds.
Still, many top Republicans in the House haven’t said how they will vote. Lawmakers also can add amendments to the legislation with a three-fifths majority vote.
Any discrepancies with the Senate version of the bill would have to be worked out in committee.
‘Attack on our values’
Supporters of the Confederate flag aren’t shying away from the controversial symbol.
The State newspaper in Columbia reported that pro-Confederate flag robocalls urged voters last week to call their representatives and to tell them to “not stand with leftist fanatics who want to destroy the South we love.”
“What’s next? This attack on our values is sick and un-American, and it has to stop right here and right now in South Carolina,” the call said.
Also, according to a new CNN/ORC poll, U.S. public opinion on the Confederate flag remains about where it was 15 years ago, with 57% of Americans seeing it more as a symbol of Southern pride than of racism. In 2000, 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride.
Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education.
Another point of view
Adding to the push to remove the flag, MoveOn members will present a petition to officials at the statehouse Tuesday. More than 570,000 signatures have been collected.
“The Confederate flag is not a symbol of southern pride but rather a symbol of rebellion and racism,” the online petition states.
“On the heels of the brutal killing of nine Black people in a South Carolina church by a racist terrorist, it’s time to put that symbol of rebellion and racism behind us and move toward healing and a better United States of America!”
‘Can’t be the end’
South Carolina lawmakers raised the Confederate emblem over the statehouse in 1961.
For nearly 40 years, it flew under the U.S. flag and the state’s palmetto flag atop the Capitol dome until a compromise moved it to a flagpole next to a soldiers’ monument.
Opponents say the flag’s display on the grounds amounts to tacit state endorsement of white supremacy.
But efforts to remove it had gone nowhere until last month, when nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston were shot and killed during Bible study. The victims were all African-American, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was a state senator.
The massacre reignited debate over the flag’s meaning and spurred politicians around the South to reexamine the placement of Confederate flags on everything from government property to state-issued license plates.
“The flag is the beginning; it can’t be the end,” Haley told NBC’s “Today” show over the weekend.
Beyond South Carolina
The Confederate flag debate has not been limited to South Carolina. Lawmakers in several Southern states have discussed the flag’s prominence in their respective communities.
The County Commissioner of Marion County, Florida made a unilateral decision to remove the flag from the commission building last week. But protests asking the flag to be raised again in the conservative, rural county led the five-member commission to meet Tuesday to discuss the flag’s future. A larger protest is planned for this weekend.
CNN previously reported that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the Confederate Flag “racist” last month following the Charleston Massacre.
Bush decided to remove the Confederate flag from Florida state premises while he was governor after watching Georgia lawmakers debate the flag.
“I decided to do something politically incorrect” and remove the flags, he said.