The South Carolina Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a bill removing the Confederate battle flag from a pole in front of the Statehouse, sending the proposal to the House, where it faces a less certain future.
The banner at the Capitol came under greater scrutiny over the last few weeks after authorities said a gunman, motivated by racial hatred, opened fire inside a black church June 17, killing nine people. The suspect was photographed several times holding a Confederate battle flag and burning an American flag. One of those slain was state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was the head pastor at the church.
Tuesday’s 36-3 vote came after a day of debate in which several white senators said they had come to understand why their black colleagues felt the flag no longer represented the valor of Southern soldiers but the racism that led the South to separate from the United States more than 150 years ago. Senators then stood as Pinckney’s widow came in the chamber. Each member came up to talk to her and offer condolences.
Two of the three senators voting against the bill were the only people to speak Tuesday. Republican Sen. Lee Bright called the vote an attempt to revise history.
“At the end of the day, it will not change anything. What we will have done is take people that respect their Southern heritage, and we will have kicked them in the teeth,” Bright said.
Meanwhile, the man charged in the killing, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, was indicted on nine counts of murder, a weapons charge and three new charges of attempted murder that stem from survivors of the massacre.
As for the flag, debate in the House was scheduled to begin Wednesday, and it’s far from clear when a vote may be taken. Republicans have struggled to reach a consensus on what to do next.
One idea being floated is to keep the pole and put a different flag on it: the U.S. flag, the South Carolina flag or a flag that may have been flown by Confederate troops but is not as divisive as the red banner with the blue cross and white stars.