South Carolina Gov Haley: Take Down Capitol's Confederate Flag

6-22-15 Confederate flag protest
People hold signs during a protest demanding the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, in Columbia, South Carolina, on June 20, 2015. Jason Miczek/Reuters

Updated | South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse in Columbia at a Monday afternoon news conference.

"The events of the past week call upon us to look at this in a different way… It's time to move the flag from the capitol grounds," she said after a brief prologue, and those present at the news conference burst out in applause. "150 years after the end of the Civil War the time has come," she added. "The flag will always be part of the soil of South Carolina," but this would be a moment to show that while the flag "is an integral part of our past it does not represent the future of this state."

The U.S. flag and South Carolina state flag flies at half staff to honor the nine people killed in the Charleston murders as the confederate battle flag also flies on the grounds of the South Carolina State House in Columbia, SC June 20, 2015. Jason Miczek/Reuters

Haley's announcement does not mean that the flag cannot be displayed on private property, or that it can immediately be removed from the capitol grounds. The state's lawmakers will still need to discuss and vote on taking such an action. However, Haley said that if the legislature does not act on removing the flag, she will use her discretion as governor to, under extraordinary circumstances, call another session this summer.

"By removing a symbol that divides us," she said, "we can move forward in harmony."

The announcement came days after hundreds gathered outside the Statehouse on Saturday to protest the continued presence of the Confederate flag on those grounds. A decades-long debate about the flag was stoked after the Wednesday night shooting deaths of nine black bible study group attendees at the hands of a white gunman at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston.

"The flag has always been a massive point of contention in South Carolina," Jessica Doscher, a student at Winthrop University, told The Washington Post. "And it was always right below the surface, festering. But the shooting of Walter Scott and now this, it's ignited this powder keg. We can't ignore that we are flying a symbol of hatred."

As Doscher suggests, the debate is far from new, but the shootings prompted a revival of outrage about the flag on social media and a renewed effort to get it removed from the Statehouse grounds once and for all. Saturday's protest was reportedly organized via a Facebook page called "Take the flag down SC," which as of Monday morning had nearly 7,000 likes.

The Confederate flag, which used to fly atop the Statehouse dome along with the U.S. and South Carolina flags, was moved in July 2000 to a nearby memorial on the grounds. The change came as a result of a compromise between those who fought for it to remain aloft above the Statehouse and those who wished to see it removed. The same law that prescribed the flag's new location also stipulated that a two-thirds vote in each branch of the General Assembly would be required to amend or repeal the very specific instructions for its placement at the Confederate Soldier Monument.

Saturday's protest drew some who had participated in the discussion 15 years ago, and some who had barely started elementary school in 2000. "We have to take Southern pride out of the hands of the racists and the haters," former state Representative Boyd Brown, a Democrat and one of many speakers at the rally, told the crowd, which was reportedly composed primarily of white protesters along with several African-Americans. Protesters carried signs saying, "Take it down," "Take the hate down" and "Honk to take down the flag," among other messages. There were reportedly no arrests.

Haley has in the past defended the presence of the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds. "What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state," Haley said in October of last year. "I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag."

Haley reportedly told Wisconsin governor and expected presidential candidate Scott Walker over the phone that lawmakers in South Carolina would discuss the future of the flag after the nine victims of the church shooting were buried. She echoed Republican U.S. Representative and former Governor Mark Sanford, who said that "the Confederate flag debate is a longer debate for another day. We've not yet eulogized the nine victims"—and Matt Moore, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, who said that "this weekend is not the time for it. It's not the time for politics."

But Republican state Representative Doug Brannon said last Friday that he intends to introduce a bill as soon as possible that would remove the flag, CBS News reports, though that likely won't be until December. "The switch that flipped was the death of my friend Senator [Clementa] Pinckney," he said. "I've been in the House five years. I should have filed that bill five years ago. But the time is now. I can't let my friend the senator's death go without fundamental change in South Carolina."

An online petition being circulated on the "Take the flag down SC" Facebook page had recorded more than half a million signatures as of Monday. "The Confederate flag is not a symbol of Southern pride but rather a symbol of rebellion and racism," it reads. "On the heels of the brutal killing of nine black people in a South Carolina church by a racist terrorist, it's time to put that symbol of rebellion and racism behind us and move toward healing and a better United States of America!"

State and local leaders—including North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, the Reverend Nelson B. Rivers III and Elder James Johnson of the National Action Network, J. Elliott Summey of the Charleston County Council and state Senator Marlon Kimpson—were scheduled to gather for a news conference Monday at North Charleston City Hall to call for the Confederate flag to be removed.

A Facebook event has already been created on the heels of Saturday's protest and calls for another rally on the Fourth of July. Titled "Furl the Flag: July 4th Rally to Take Down the Flag," its description says, "Let's keep the pressure on our elected officials and let them know we're not going to stop until the flag comes down!"