South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called on Monday for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds in Charleston, reshaping a heated debate over race and the flag’s meaning in a state devastated by last week’s massacre at a historic black church.
“For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble,” she said in a news conference at the state Capitol, in front of American and South Carolina state flags. “For many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol.”
Haley then said, now 150 years after the end of the Civil War, that it should come down. “It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” she said, before a loud applause.
The Governor’s proposal comes five days after the massacre of nine people during a Bible study group at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, an act that authorities are investigating as a racially motivated shooting at the hands of suspected gunman Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man.
Critics of the flag call it a vestigial symbol of the state’s racist and slave-owning history. A trove of pictures that recently emerged on a white supremacist site, accompanied by a racist manifesto, appeared to show Roof posing with the flag.
Pressure has been building since the killings to remove the flag from Statehouse ground. More difficult, though, may be the legislative path to moving the flag. A state law passed in 2000 requires a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses to move the flag off the Capitol grounds. A change could be added to the state’s budget bill in order to prevent any change from going into the next legislative session.