Will the Confederate flag be history in South Carolina?
That’s up for discussion this week in the State House as lawmakers there began debate on Monday whether to remove the Confederate flag from Capitol grounds.
After an impassioned discussion Monday, the bill advanced to the third and final reading, which is expected to take place on Tuesday, after a 37-3 vote. The bill needs a two-thirds majority vote to pass and move to the House for a vote.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and others have called for the flag to be taken down in the wake of a deadly shooting at a predominately black church in Charleston.
“You always want to think that today is better than yesterday — that we’re growing as a state, we’re growing as a country. When something like this happens, you reflect, and you say: Have we changed enough?” the governor told NBC’s “Today” show over the weekend.
“I don’t think this is going to be easy. I don’t think that it’s going to be painless, but I do think that it will be respectful, and that it will move swiftly,” Haley said.
And as the debate got underway on Monday, about a dozen protesters gathered outside to voice their support or opposition to taking down the flag, with verbal confrontations between the two sides at times heating up.
Faith leaders also gathered in the rotunda of the State House, singing “Amazing Grace” and encouraging individuals to find unity through faith.
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson also took to the legislature to sit in the House gallery and observe the flag debate.
‘Attack on our values’
A two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly would be necessary for the measure 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.
But the proposal is not without opposition.
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, American public opinion on the Confederate flag remains about where it was 15 years ago, with most describing the flag as a symbol of Southern pride more than one of racism.
The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 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.
‘Can’t be the end’
South Carolina lawmakers raised the Confederate emblem over the State House 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.
That move didn’t satisfy opponents, who maintain 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.
After the accused shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was arrested the next day in North Carolina, a website surfaced showing a racist manifesto and 60 photos of Roof, some of which showed him waving the Confederate flag.
The massacre reignited debate over the flag’s meaning and spurred politicians around the South to re-examine 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 “Today.”