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Support to remove Confederate flag grows

GEORGE E. CURRY | 6/29/2015, 1:10 a.m.
In what is quickly and unexpectedly gaining ground as a fitting memorial to the nine African Americans killed by a ...
Protesters hold signs as they demand that the Confederate flag be taken down, Tuesday, Columbia, South Carolina. Rallies are being held, and politicians have joined the chorus of voices calling for its removal. Rainier Ehrhardt

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In what is quickly and unexpectedly gaining ground as a fitting memorial to the nine African Americans killed by a White supremacist at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, some of the most ardent defendants of the Confederate flag are reversing course and saying for the first time that the flag should no longer fly over the Capitol in South Carolina.

The most shocking news came Monday when two-term Gov. Nikki Haley said, “Fifteen years ago, after much contentious debate, South Carolina came together in a bipartisan way to move the flag from atop the Capitol dome. Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds. A hundred-and-fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.”

Both pro- and anti-flag advocates reached a compromise in 2000, hoping to defuse a growing public debate over the Confederate flag. Under the agreement, state lawmakers voted to allow the U.S. and state flags to fly on the Statehouse dome in Columbia and move the Confederate battle flag to the top of a nearby memorial to Confederate soldiers.

They agreed that any future changes to the positioning of the flag, which is the first thing a visitor sees when approaching the Statehouse from the north on Main Street, would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature, a decision that is expected to be challenged in coming weeks.

In South Carolina, the Confederate flag has had a divisive history, especially for Republican politicians interested in growing their share of the Black vote while holding on to their staunchly conservative base.

Former Gov. David Beasley learned that the hard way. In 1996, he called for removing the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol to a Statehouse monument. But seeking re-election two years later, he vowed to never try to do that again. By then, it was too late and he lost to Jim Hodges, the Democratic challenger who embraced the support of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

On July 15, the NAACP launched a boycott of the state over the Confederate flag issue. Five days later, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference voted to withdraw its 2000 national convention from Charleston.

Though unpopular in many quarters, some White politicians in the state have taken a bold stand against the flag.

Joseph P. Riley, the mayor of Charleston, told The New York Times: “When it is so often used as a symbol of hate, of defiance to civil rights, to equal rights, equality among the races, a symbol used by the Klan, a symbol you saw at every protest during the times of integration and racial progress, then in front of the state Capitol, for those who harbor any of those kind of feelings and I hope they are few it nonetheless sends the wrong kind of message.”

Haley, an Indian American frequently touted as a possible GOP vice presidential candidate, reversed the stand she had taken throughout her political career in reaching that same conclusion. When she first ran for governor in 2010, she declared the Confederate flag issue had been resolved to the best of its ability with the compromise on the placement of the flag on Capitol grounds.