S.C. Lawmakers Vote To Consider Removing Confederate Flag
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State senators in South Carolina adjourned today without voting on a measure to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capital. Earlier in the day, the South Carolina House voted overwhelmingly to take up the issue in this week's special session on the budget. In a moment, a discussion about what Southern identity means today. But first, NPR's David Schaper has this report from Charleston.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Take it down. Take it down.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Hundreds of people rallied outside of the South Carolina capital today, demanding that what many see as a symbol of slavery and oppression be taken down. The Confederate flag has flown for more than 50 years there, but the massacre of nine members of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a Bible study last week has sparked a sea change in opinions over its meaning. Authorities say the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is tied to hate groups and took many photographs of himself with the Confederate flag, something Republican state senator Tom Davis alludes to at the rally.
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TOM DAVIS: It is widely perceived by many because of taking that flag and making it as an emblem of their hatred to be a symbol of hatred. And I understand that it causes a lot of pain to many people in South Carolina for that reason.
SCHAPER: Davis says he had already come to this realization through his friendship with the slain pastor of Mother Emanuel AME, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who had always urged him to view things through another man's eyes.
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DAVIS: We need to go ahead and do the right thing, respectfully take the flag down, move it to a more appropriate place off the statehouse grounds and move forward together as South Carolinians. Thank you.
SCHAPER: And for many here, this push to remove the flag is long overdue.
ALEX ENGLISH: Growing up in South Carolina was very difficult, but I always looked forward to a change.
SCHAPER: Alex English is a Columbia native.
ENGLISH: And it's changed. But this flag has always been that one symbol that stopped us from achieving greatness.
SCHAPER: But many in the South have mixed feelings about the Confederate flag and what it represents. After stepping off the ferry from a tour of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, Gary Weaver of Knoxville, Tenn., says the Confederate flag is still important to some.
GARY WEAVER: To a lot of us, it's just a symbol of our rebel spirit, not necessarily any kind of indication of slavery or injustice or difference or discrimination of any kind. Although, I could see how it would be taken that way.
SCHAPER: Weaver says because the flag is so offensive to some, it should come down. Though, not everyone agrees.
MATTHEW HEIMBACH: That flag is a symbol of honorable men that gave their lives in the hundreds of thousands for the South, and I want to go ahead and honor that. And we don't want to make deals with the Republicans. We want to go ahead and stand strong for faith, family and folk.
SCHAPER: Matthew Heimbach is the head of the Traditionalist Youth Network, a pro-white organization that condemns violence but promotes the separation of the races.
HEIMBACH: The flag represents, to me, men that were willing to fight an oppressive regime for - in defense of their homeland, in defense of their culture and defense of their states. And that's something that I will never apologize for nor should any white Southerner ever apologize for.
SCHAPER: But others here in South Carolina hope the tragic murders of nine in a church leads to more than the removal of the flag. It starts a dialogue toward even greater racial healing and unity. David Schaper, NPR News in Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.