Debate over the Confederate flag renewed last month after the mass shooting of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. A day after the shooting, the U.S. flag on top of the statehouse had been lowered to honor the victims, but the Confederate flag remained flying high on the statehouse grounds. Soon, images emerged of the shooter displaying the flag.
A national conversation about the flag’s legacy — whether it stood as a symbol of oppression or heritage — included high-profile calls and protests for its removal from the statehouse grounds. An activist even climbed up the flag pole to remove it. She was jailed for the act.
The only way for the flag to be legally removed is via the legislature, despite Republican Gov. Nikki Haley pushing for the flag to come down.
“Some divisions are bigger than a flag,” Haley said last month. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand.”
In 2000, after months of pressure from civil rights groups, the legislature approved a compromise proposal that would remove the confederate flag from the statehouse dome and place it on a flag pole in front of the building. The compromise also called for a two-thirds final vote to remove the flag.
On Monday, the state senate tabled an amendment that would have put the issue to voters via a referendum, the Post and Courier reported.
“Let today be the beginning of a story about a new South Carolina,” Democratic state Sen. Joel Lourie said before the vote, the State reported. “[It’s] a story that starts after a very bitter and somewhat toxic legislative session, a story about how this General Assembly came together in the wake of unspeakable horrors to work to unite the people of South Carolina, a story of how we helped remove a symbol that helped heal a nation and a state in their mourning.”
One of the three lawmakers who voted against the proposal Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (R), compared removing the flag to removing a tattoo from the corpse of a loved one, the State reported.
“Moving the flag won’t change history,” he said. “Do what you think you feel we must for the healing of this state. Do what you think we must do, but you will not accomplish it with an affirmative vote by me least we forget our ancestor.”
Abby Phillip contributed.