Confederate flag, pole removed from State House grounds

VIDEO: Confederate flag lowered, removed from State House grounds
The flag will be moved to the Relic Room at the SC State Museum, about a mile from the State House grounds.
The flag will be moved to the Relic Room at the SC State Museum, about a mile from the State House grounds.
Thousands gathered to watch the flag being lowered Friday morning.
Thousands gathered to watch the flag being lowered Friday morning.

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - After 53 years, the Confederate battle flag was removed from the State House grounds Friday, a day after Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill authorizing the action.

The same honor guard that carried State Senator Clementa Pinckney's casket in the days following the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston began its march toward the Confederate flag at approximately 10:07 a.m. At approximately 10:09 a.m., the flag was lowered from its place atop the pole behind the Confederate monument where it has flown since 2000 amid chants of "USA! USA!" from the crowd of thousands who had assembled.

From there, it will be transferred to the Confederate Relic Room next to the SC State Museum, about a mile away from the State House grounds.

Haley stood on the steps of the State House, joined by former governors David Beasley and Jim Hodges, Rev. Norvel Goff, the interim pastor of the Emanuel AME Church and the families of the victims of the Emanuel 9.

Among the onlookers, there was happiness to see the flag removed and sadness from those who say the action is a disgrace to the memory of South Carolinians who fought in the Confederacy.

The public was allowed to stand behind barriers on each side of the Confederate Flag and the City of Columbia closed streets in the area of the State House in the hours leading up to the ceremony. On Thursday night, city leaders passed an emergency ordinance placing a temporary ban of weapons within a 250-foot area surrounding the State House Grounds.

Once the flag was down, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called the moment the resurrection.

"The crucifixion took place in Charleston," he said, referring to the shooting of the Emanuel 9, "and through the power of their blood, we see the resurrection, the new hope, new life, new possibility. This is South Carolina at its best. Here we are, multiracial, multicultural, going forward by hope and healing, not backward by fear and division. This is a great moment."

The leader of the South Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said he would not attend the ceremony to take down the rebel flag because he honors the memories of his seven ancestors who fought for the South in the Civil War.

"I'm not going down there to watch them be dishonored and defamed," Summers told the Associated Press by phone Friday ahead of the ceremony.

He said his organization was not asked to participate in the Statehouse ceremony, unlike in 2000 when the flag was moved from the Capitol dome to a monument in front of the building. Summers said at some point Friday, he will pause, reflect on his Southern relatives and pray for the future of the country.

At the State House, flag supporters were vastly outnumbered, but some were present. Cindy Lampley clutched a poster showing photos of ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. Lampley says she is a historical re-enactor who fears that removing symbols such as the flag dishonors her relatives who fought for the Southern cause.

"If they want to get down to it, the South Carolina state flag is a Confederate flag," supporter Mark Hendrick said. "That came out from seceding from the Union. I don't see anybody screaming about taking that down."

Hours after the flag was transported to the Relic Room, the pole that flew that flag was also removed by workers and a crane. The workers also removed the fencing and concrete as a smaller crowd watched.

Haley signed bill surrounded by lawmakers, activists, shooting victims' families

Haley signed the Senate Bill that survived 13 hours of debate in the House Thursday afternoon with former South Carolina governors, lawmakers, Emanuel 9 family members and social activists looking on.

Before the historic signing, Haley talked about the series of events leading up to the shooting of nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17. She referred to the victims of the massacre who welcomed the alleged shooter among them and who prayed with him for an hour.

"That love and faith was so strong that it brought grace to their families," she said. "It showed them how to forgive. So then we saw the action of forgiveness. We saw the families show the world what true forgiveness and grace looked like. That forgiveness and grace set off another action: an action of compassion, by people all across South Carolina and all across this country. They stopped looking at each others' differences. They started looking at each others' similarities because we were all experiencing the same pain."

That compassion, she said, motivated action that led to the call to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.

"What we saw in that swift action by both the House and Senate, was we saw members start to see what it was like in each others' shoes, start to see what it felt like," Haley said. "We heard about the true honor of heritage and tradition. We heard about the true pain many had felt and we took the time to understand it. I saw passions get high, I saw passions get low, but I saw commitment never ending. And so what we saw was another action, and that action is that the Confederate flag is coming off the grounds of the South Carolina State House."

Haley vowed that when the flag comes down Friday morning at 10 a.m., it will be done with dignity and said the flag would be put in its proper place.

"So 22 days ago, I didn't know that I would ever be able to say this again. But today, I am very proud to say, 'This is a great day in South Carolina,'" Haley said before sitting down to sign the bill.

Haley used 13 different pens to sign the bill, and said one will go to each of the families of the Emanuel 9. She then presented one to former Gov. David Beasley, who she credited with starting the movement to remove the flag from the State House dome nearly two decades earlier.

"The last time I saw him, I said, 'You started it,' and he said, 'Well, I need you to finish it,'" she said of Beasley.

She then presented a pen to former Gov. Jim Hodges, who she said continued the effort and was in office when the flag was taken off the dome in 2000.

"He worked very hard and is the person that brought the Confederate flag off the dome," she said.

Haley said the remaining two pens were for her and thanked everyone present for attending.

"We are now looking forward to the future and the future of our children," she said.

Debate over flag bill went into the night at SC House

Lawmakers passed the bill at approximately 1:30 a.m. Thursday with a final vote of 94-20, more than the two-thirds majority required.

However, in the moments leading up to the final vote, it looked like a clean bill, which Democrats and some Republicans said was the goal, was uncertain.

Multiple amendments were on the board to the very end, including one by Laurens Rep. Mike Pitts, who submitted over 50 on the bill.
His final proposal, to put a state flag on the pole behind the Confederate memorial, appeared to have a chance to pass, which would have delayed the entire bill from passing. It ultimately failed.

On Thursday, Pitts said his amendments weren't to stop the flag from coming down, but to try to keep Confederate history from being erased.

He says he plans to introduce some of these measures when the legislature returns in January.

"In January there will be a bill, that's why I'm here today, I'm working on a bill to do exactly what I was trying to do, what I was trying to accomplish with the amendment process," Pitts said. "That compromise, I will file a bill in January to continue that process. I think the other side would be much more amenable to that in January because that will be past the emotion, past the, you won't ever get past what happened in Charleston. But time and distance will make it less emotional to deal with."

Flag will have spent 53 years on State House grounds

The Confederate flag was raised on the State House dome in 1962 where it stayed despite decades of protest until July 1, 2000 when it was moved from the dome to a pole next to the Confederate monument as a compromise among legislators.

A bill in January, 2008, sought to prohibit the placement of any Confederate flag on State House grounds, but that bill failed.

The latest push to remove the flag came after the shooting at Emanuel AME Church and the subsequent arrest of the suspect after photos surfaced showing him posing with the Confederate battle flag and burning the American flag.

On June 22, five days after the shooting, Haley called for the flag to be removed from the Capitol complex.

"There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment," Haley said. "I respect that, but know this. For good and for bad whether it is on the State House grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina. But this is a moment that we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state."

She threatened to call state lawmakers back for a special session if they did not debate the issue before the close of the current session. A provision of the South Carolina Heritage Act required a two-thirds vote from each chamber of the State House before the flag could be removed.

By law, the Confederate flag was required to be removed within 24 hours of Haley's signature.

The flag's new home will be the Relic Room at the South Carolina State Museum alongside other artifacts important to the state's history.

Copyright 2015 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.