Tuesday marks 3 years since Statehouse's Confederate flag came down

Updated: Jul. 10, 2018 at 6:03 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - Three years ago Tuesday, the Confederate battle flag was removed from the Statehouse grounds.

July 10, 2015, was a historic day for South Carolina as the flag was lowered from a flagpole behind the Confederate monument and handed over to a museum for display.

Some who were instrumental in removing the flag say they are proud there's no longer a Confederate flag on the capitol grounds. All that remains of the symbol now is a cement block where it used to fly.

Earlier Tuesday, the South Carolina Secessionist Party did raise their own to remember the flag once here. They claim it symbolized heritage and honored ancestors who fought for independence.

But others say it symbolized a hate message and was divisive and there's no room for anything but the American flag and South Carolina flag on these grounds.

The debate inside the chambers was one that lasted hours three years ago, and drew emotion and a sense of pride from those instrumental in passing the bill for the removal. Sen. Vincent Sheheen sponsored the bill.

"There were those that wanted to fly a different version of the Confederate flag," he said. "There were those that wanted to fly the current version but only on specific days, but the truth is regardless of how you feel about the history of this state, the divisions that the flying of that flag brought about just weren't appropriate."

"We're Americans first, and then we're South Carolinians," Democratic Rep. Russell Ott said. "And that's why I think we have those two flags that represent us. And there's really no room for any other type of flag to represent us as a whole."

The movement to take down the flag followed the church shooting at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston in June 2015, when nine parishioners were killed by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was the church's lead pastor, was one of those killed. Sheheen says he would have been proud of the flag removal, but saddened that it took the deaths of 8 of his parishioners to finally bring it down.

Lawmakers passed the bill at approximately 1:30 a.m. the night before the flag's removal with a final vote of 94-20, more than the two-thirds majority required.

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.

Meanwhile, the flag is stored at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

Lawmakers did not approve $350,000 in this year's budget to build a display for it. The museum's director says they will try to exhibit it the best they can anyway over the next few months.

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