The days of the Confederate battle flag flying at the South Carolina statehouse are nearly over.
Early Thursday morning, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 94-20 to remove the controversial flag following a marathon 13-hour debate session that lasted well after midnight.
“South Carolina can remove the stain from our lives,” said Rep. Joe Neal, an African-American Democrat who has served in the state’s legislature for nearly a quarter-century. “I never thought in my lifetime I would see this.”
“I never thought in my lifetime I would see this.”
National attention was drawn to the flag when, during a memorial to the victims shortly after the shooting, the Confederate flag the only one flying at the capital not lowered to half-mast. It was viewed by many as a symbol of the institutional racism that allegedly inspired confessed shooter Dylann Storm Roof.
The passage of this bill was especially emotional for many South Carolina lawmakers because one the victims was one of their own—State Senator Clementa Pickney, who also served as the minster of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and was murdered while leading a bible study group at the church.
“If any of you vote to amend, 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,” said Rep. Jenny Horne in a tearful speech supporting the bill.
Horne was referring to a litany of amendments to the bill proposed by some of her fellow Republican lawmakers aimed at delaying the flag’s removal. The proposals ranged from altering flower beds on the statehouse grounds to requiring budget approval from a museum before taking down the flag.
“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage,” said Horne, who noted she is a descendant of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. “Remove this flag and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age.”
The flag was first hoisted at the statehouse in the early 1960s both as centennial commemoration of the Civil War and also as a symbolic opposition to the civil rights movement. The flag flew over the dome of the statehouse until 2000, when a bill shifted it to another location on the grounds and protected its place there by law.
While South Carolina’s elected leaders have faced considerable public pressure to take down the flag, not everyone was willing to wait for the wheels of democracy to turn. Late last month, police arrested activist Bree Newsome after she scaled the flagpole and removed the flag herself. It was quickly put back into place after Newsome was taken into custody.
The South Caroline State Senate passed a version of the bill to remove the flag earlier this week. It will now go to the desk of Gov. Nikki Haley, who has been publicly supportive of efforts to remove the flag. Following the vote, Haley posted this message to her Facebook page: