Charleston massacre reignites Confederate flag debate
By Jeff Wilkinson, The State (Columbia, S.C.) (TNS)
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Twice a day, 21-year-old Chelsea Coleburn walks past the Confederate battle flag on the State House grounds as she makes her way to and from her Main Street apartment, classes on the University of South Carolina campus and her job there.
On Friday, 36 hours after Dylann Roof, a man her age with white supremacist leanings was charged with murder in the shootings of nine African-Americans in a black church in Charleston, Coleburn native said leaving the flag in front of the Capitol "is a disgrace."
"It represents something that we used to be, something that was a failure," Coleburn said. "It's not who we are anymore."
After the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday night, there are renewed calls for removal of the battle flag, which in 2000 was taken down from the Capitol dome. The flag had flown on the dome since 1962. A hard-fought compromise resulted in its relocation to behind a monument to Confederate dead at the intersection of Gervais and Main streets, arguably the most prominent intersection in South Carolina.
A renewed push for the flag's removal has arisen quickly.
--The national NAACP again has called for it to come down.
--A national MoveOn.org petition had drawn nearly 150,000 signatures by 3 p.m. Friday.
-U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is running for president, said Friday that a return to the flag issue "would be fine with me."
-- It was widely noted on social media that while the state and U.S. flags were lowered to half staff to honor victims, the battle flag was not.
The Confederate battle flag is not a sovereign flag and is not used like other flags at the State House, said Sen. Larry Martin, the Republican chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee. The battle flag is considered a monument and, under the compromise, is not governed by the law dealing with other flags.
It would be difficult to fly the battle flag at half staff because it has no rope and pulley system as most flags do.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat, said he would pre-file a bill in December to remove the flag from the State House grounds. The House minority leader said he hopes that in light of a photograph of Roof posing with his car that has a Confederate flag license plate, the public will rally to remove it from the State House.
"Like Dr. Martin Luther King said in his letter from a Birmingham jail, when are good people going to step up and say enough is enough?" said Rutherford.
Republican state Rep. Doug Brannon said Saturday that he, too, plans to file a bill in the House to take down the flag.
Brannon, 54, a lawyer, said he held Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was the church's pastor, in the highest regard. He said he began thinking about filing the bill after learning that Pinckney was among those killed.
"I had a friend who died on Wednesday night simply because he was a black man," Brannon said.
"That flag is not just a symbol of hate - it is a symbol of pride in one's hate," Brannon said. "It should not be equated with the state of South Carolina in any way. It needs to come off of the capitol grounds, and we need to do it in honor of Senator Pinckney."
Since word got out Friday that he was thinking about such a bill, he said he has gotten "about 8,000" communications via social media, email and phone. Nearly all were favorable, he said.
Some fellow Republicans have asked him if they could join him as a co-sponsor of his bill. But he told them it might be politically dangerous, Brannon said.
"I told each of them, 'don't co-sponsor the bill.' The only political career I'm willing to ruin is mine," Brannon said.
In November, a Winthrop University poll conducted for The State newspaper showed 61 percent of South Carolinians said the flag should continue to fly where it is, while 33 percent said it should not.
When broken down by race, three out of four whites - 73 percent - said the flag should continue flying, while 61 percent of blacks said it should come down.
University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, whose campus flanks the State House grounds, stopped short of endorsing the flag's removal Friday. He said the university would participate in any discussion of the issue after a period of mourning.
"Sometimes change does happen out of a tragedy," said Pastides, who noted that the flag prevents the university from hosting an NCAA basketball regional tournament because of an NAACP boycott. "Sometimes, it takes a tragedy like this to provide movement."
South Carolina is not the only former Confederate state to fly its symbols. The state flags of Georgia and Mississippi incorporate images of other Confederate flags.