COLUMBIA (South Carolina) • With protesters outside and the desk of a slain lawmaker draped in black, the South Carolina Senate has voted overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House.
The 37-3 vote propelled the state towards a landmark moment that many hope could come within days: the lowering of the flag that has flown outside the seat of state power here for over five decades, even as it became a symbol of the segregated South and white supremacy.
The measure, sought by Republican governor Nikki R. Haley, was voted on just weeks after the massacre of nine people at the historic and predominantly black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
After a final vote in the state senate, widely viewed as a formality, the legislation will go before the state's House of Representatives, where the outcome is less certain. Debate is expected to begin later this week.
SYMBOL OF HATRED AND RACISM
This fact is undeniable: The alleged killer of the Charleston nine used that flag as a symbol of hatred and racism and bigotry.
SENATOR JOEL LOURIE, a Democrat
The Senate vote on Monday was among the clearest signals of a resounding and abrupt shift in South Carolina. Some members of the Senate, in which Emanuel's senior pastor, the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, served at the time of his death, said the massacre had prompted reflection about the meaning of the flag and its prominence in a state where about 28 per cent of the population is black.
But supporters of the measure were unable to persuade three senators , all of them Republicans.
"To remove the flag from the State House grounds and thinking it would change history would be like removing a tattoo from the corpse of a loved one and thinking that would change the loved one's obituary," one of the trio, Senator Harvey S. Peeler, said.
"I'd implore us to pass this Bill today in the pursuit of peace and mu-tual upbuilding," said Republican George E. Campsen III, who urged fellow senators to "not engage in some of the battles that we saw raging all over the country".
Throughout the debate, senators differed over whether the flag symbolised oppression and racism, or whether it represented the region's history and heritage.
"We all have somewhere between slightly different and very different perspectives on the Confederate flag," Senator Joel Lourie, a Democrat, said during the debate.
"This fact is undeniable: The alleged killer of the Charleston nine used that flag as a symbol of hatred and racism and bigotry. He was not the first; he will not be the last.
"I am very respectful to those who would argue that this flag is part of our state's history, and that, too, is undeniable. But it's also a flag that brings back horrible memories of slavery."
In Monday's session, lawmakers defeated three amendments designed to undermine the measure, including a proposal for a statewide referendum about the battle flag and another that called for it to fly outside the State House each year on Confederate Memorial Day.
The limited resistance in the Senate amplified the calls for the House to move quickly on the measure. But House leaders have been reluctant to speak out about their plans and there are suggestions that the measure could be sent through the committee process, a decision that would prolong the debate.
NEW YORK TIMES