South Carolina lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to consider removing the Confederate flag from their Statehouse grounds and other politicians took aim at Civil War-era symbols across the South, saying change is imperative after police said nine black churchgoers were slain in a hate crime.
Prodded by Gov. Nikki Haley’s call the day before to move the flag to a museum, lawmakers approved a measure enabling a flag debate by a vote of 103-10 in the House and a voice vote in the Senate.
The House vote brought a standing ovation and rounds of applause after Democratic and Republican leaders jointly sponsored the measure in a show of uncharacteristic unity.
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Very few lawmakers rose to say the flag should stay; some said they were saving speeches for what promises to be an emotional debate later this summer.
Lawmakers then prayed for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who joined the legislature in 1997 and who, as pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, was among the dead.
“I ask that in the memory of Mr. Pinckney that we are generous in spirit, gracious in our conversation and please even if we disagree, let’s agree to disagree agreeably,” Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter urged her colleagues. “Those nine families have shown us how to do it. I would strongly suggest we take a cue from them.”
Dylann Storm Roof, who faces murder and gun charges in the church attack, had posed in photos displaying Confederate flags and burning or desecrating US flags, and told a friend that he was planning to do something “for the white race.”
Haley’s call to put the Confederate flag in a museum was quickly seconded by leading Republicans including US Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, giving others a political opening to announce their moves.
Many cited the church slayings as they abandoned the long-held position that even debating the status of the flag would be too racially divisive today.
“Last week’s terrorizing act of violence shook the very core of every South Carolinian,” South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas said in support of the measure. And once South Carolina took action, other states moved quickly.
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called for removing the Confederate emblem from the state flag. Both Democrats and Republicans in Tennessee said a bust of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest must go from the Senate. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants vanity license plates depicting the Confederate flag replaced.
McConnell joined Kentucky’s Republican nominee for governor, Matt Bevin, in calling for the removal of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from their state Capitol’s rotunda.Big businesses also took action: Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Amazon.com Inc., EBay Inc., Target Corp. and Sears Holding Corp. announced they would no longer sell merchandise featuring the Confederate flag.
And the Valley Forge Flag Co., which has sent flags into battle and to the moon, said it won’t make them anymore. “When you have a sea change moment like you have with the tragedy in Charleston, we felt it was simply the right thing to do,” Valley Forge Vice President Reggie VandenBosch said. “We don’t want to do anything that causes pain or disunity for people.”