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S.C. Governor Calls For Removal Of State Capitol's Confederate Flag


One of the most divisive symbols in South Carolina could soon be history. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley yesterday urged state lawmakers to take down the Confederate battle flag flying in front of the state capital. For years, she opposed efforts to do that, but she changed after a young man who has posed with the Confederate flag as a symbol of white supremacy allegedly shot and killed nine members of a historic black church in Charleston. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Governor Nikki Haley says the Confederate flag is an important symbol in South Carolina's history - one that represents traditions that are noble, traditions of heritage and of ancestry.


NIKKI HALEY: The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect and in many ways revere it.

SCHAPER: And for those who view the flag as a symbol of respect and honor, Haley says that is not hate, nor is it racism.

HALEY: At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.

SCHAPER: With lawmakers from both parties at her side, Haley says the events of the past week put the Confederate flag in a different light. And she says it is now time to remove it from the state capitol grounds.

HALEY: The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war. We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening. My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony, and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in heaven.


SCHAPER: And outside of the state capital in Columbia...


DEBORAH KLAUS: It's coming down. Come on, people. Be happy. It's coming down.

SCHAPER: Deborah Klaus was one of hundreds of people celebrating the pending removal of a flag that some had fought for decades to get taken down.


KLAUS: It's about time.


KLAUS: You know?

SCHAPER: But not everyone was jumping for joy. Daniel Bledso of Lexington, S.C., says the Confederate flag should stay.

DANIEL BLEDSO: My ancestors fought for that flag that's sitting right up there, and it should not be taken down. Their friends, their family died. I don't think it should be taken down.

SCHAPER: And in a statement, the leader of the South Carolina chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans criticized Haley's announcement saying, quote, "do not associate the cowardly actions of a racist to our Confederate banner," adding there is absolutely no link between the Charleston massacre and the flag.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) There is none...

SCHAPER: But that's not how the issue is viewed by many of those gathering to sing and pray outside of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charlestown, where nine members were shot to death last week. Eartha Goodwin from nearby John's Island brought her 24-year-old granddaughter to see the church, and she shudders at seeing pictures of the alleged shooter holding the Confederate flag.

EARTHA GOODWIN: I'm sure no one in their right mind can deny that that is a seed that has spawned such a violent behavior.

SCHAPER: Goodwin says the Confederate flag just should never again be flown on state government grounds.

GOODWIN: When we see that, it's a sign that South Carolina is still a Confederate state. It's going along with Confederate rules and everything, and it should not be there.

SCHAPER: Nonetheless, for now, the flag continues to fly on the capitol grounds. And it will likely remain there when thousands of mourners come to honor State Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was leading a Bible study as Emanuel's pastor when he was shot to death last week, as there will be a public viewing of his casket in the state house on Wednesday. David Schaper, NPR News, in Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.