Lawmakers Move From Confederate Flag Debate to Grieving – ABC News
Having agreed to consider removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Statehouse, lawmakers are now saying goodbye to a beloved black colleague whose slaying in a mass church shooting has reignited debate about Civil War symbols in the South.
State Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s open coffin will be on display in the Statehouse Rotunda for four hours Wednesday, Senate officials said. After senators voted on Tuesday to hold a debate later this summer on whether to remove the flag, they gathered by Pinckney’s desk, still draped in black, and signed up for 30-minute shifts beside his body so he wouldn’t be alone.
Prodded by Gov. Nikki Haley’s call the day before to move the Confederate flag to a museum, House lawmakers approved a measure to hold a debate by a vote of 103-10, and the Senate promptly endorsed it with a voice vote. Several bills related to removing the flag were then introduced, although debate could be weeks away.
“We would like to have spent today grieving our friend,” said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler. “We had a responsibility to do our business and we have done it.”
South Carolina’s action spurred other politicians around the South to swiftly target the flag, a historic but divisive symbol. Most said change is imperative after the suspect in the shooting of nine black churchgoers appeared in photographs brandishing the flag as a symbol of hate.
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called for removing the Confederate emblem from the state flag. In Tennessee, both Democrats and Republicans 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 to be replaced. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch 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, e-Bay and Sears Holding Corp. announced they would no longer sell merchandise featuring the Confederate flag, which e-Bay called a “contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism.”
Outside South Carolina’s Statehouse, in the sweltering heat, hundreds chanted “Bring it down! Bring it down!” Civil rights activist Kevin Gray said it’s time to stop using the word “victims” to describe the nine people slain inside Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. They are martyrs, he said, and if Confederate symbols come down around the South, their deaths will not have been in vain.
Very few lawmakers rose to defend the flag, although some said they were saving their speeches for what promises to be an emotional debate later this summer.
Republican Rep. Jonathon Hill, a freshman, said the flag is history and rightly flies over a monument dedicated to fallen Confederate soldiers. He also said the timing of dealing with the issue so soon was disrespectful to the victims’ families.
“You’re going to defeat racism with love and forgiveness. You’re not going to defeat it with politics and certainly not with more hatred,” said Hill, R-Townville. “Dylann Roof wanted a race war, and I think this has a potential to start one in the sense that it’s a very divisive issue,” he said, referring to the suspect in the shooting. “I think it could very well get ugly.”