COLUMBIA (South Carolina) • Voting to jettison a divisive symbol that has evoked slavery and segregation for some and history and Southern pride for others, the South Carolina House of Representatives yesterday gave final approval to a Bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House.
The measure moves next to the desk of Governor Nikki Haley, who previously pledged to sign it into law.
The action by the House, after hours of emotional and contentious debate that nearly derailed the legislation, means that the battle flag, which has flown somewhere on the grounds of the State House for more than 50 years, could be lowered by the weekend.
The final House vote, taken just minutes after a preliminary tally, was 94-20, well beyond the two-thirds majority that was required to alter the flag's placement at the State House.
The state Senate approved the same proposal on Tuesday. After Ms Haley's approval, the flag will be moved to the state-supported Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
The flag's defenders deny its association with slavery, saying it honours those who fought and died for the state and the southern Confederacy on the losing side of the 1861-1865 Civil War.
The legislative action came just over three weeks after the massacre of nine black churchgoers at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which the authorities have described as a hate crime.
The vote represented the collapse of a 15-year-old compromise that had allowed the flag to remain on the grounds of the State House.
In the aftermath of the Charleston attack, a bipartisan coalition in Columbia, the capital, demanded that the flag be removed.
Before the vote, legislators spent much of Wednesday locked in debate about the proposal. Those who supported removing the flag fended off the amendments, which could have jeopardised the Bill's prospects.
After photographs of the suspect in the Charleston shooting, Dylann Roof, posing with the Confederate battle flag became public, many lawmakers on both sides began to demand that the flag at the State House be taken down for good.
The banner was originally raised atop the State House in 1961 - where it joined the state flag and the United States flag - in what was described as a commemoration of the centennial of the Civil War.
The flag's defenders deny its association with slavery, saying it honours those who fought and died for the state and the southern Confederacy on the losing side of the 1861-1865 Civil War. Others, however, saw it as a slap in the face to the black civil rights movement.
A Gallup telephone poll of a random sample of 2,013 adults aged 18 and older released on Wednesday showed 54 per cent of Americans view the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride rather than a symbol of racism, down from 59 per cent in 2000 and 69 per cent in 1992.
Another 34 per cent believe the flag is a racist symbol, said Gallup.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS