WINNSBORO — After years of debate, a short chain of events prompted by tragedy has resulted in the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Capitol.
On July 6, the S.C. State Senate approved a bill 37-3 to remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the Statehouse. Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill 4 p.m. July 9 and at 10 a.m. July 10, the flag was lowered and removed.
“This thing has been going on for some time, and if you look at it, this thing happened in three weeks, which is pretty remarkable,” said State Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-District 17.
Coleman, who co-introduced the bill, said he feels the grace and forgiveness displayed by the families of the victims of the Emanuel AME shooting, which prompted a re-examination of flying the Confederate Flag on Statehouse grounds set a tone for the expeditious proceedings.
Although Coleman was confident the Senate would vote to pass the bill, he said he was slightly surprised by a lack of resistance and the scant three dissenting votes. Coleman expressed approval of the Senate’s conduct.
“I think the Senate handled it fine,” Coleman said.
The largest hurdle the bill cleared may have been the State House of Representatives, where some feared it would become bogged down with amendments.
“The House really does not have a mechanism to filibuster like the Senate,” Coleman said. “They can delay things and slow things down with amendments.”
However, State Rep. MaryGail Douglas, D-District 41, said the bill’s passing seemed like an inevitability.
“We all went in knowing the end result would be the flag would be removed,” Douglas said.
She said the long session, which extended to the early hours of Thursday morning, became tiresome.
“It became very frustrating to me,” Douglas said.
The state representative said it was nearly 2 a.m. before they were able to leave.
Douglas said the tone of the session was intentionally cordial, and while talks simmered when discussion centered on the manner in which the flag would be removed, tensions never boiled over.
“It all became conversational, I don’t want to say adversarial when it came to how the flag would come down,” Douglas said.
Douglas said similar restraint was applied when it became apparent by the bill to remove the flag and place it in a Confederate Relics Room would pass 94-20.
“At the end, I think people were expecting an outpouring of hallelujahs and shouting, but that did not happen,” Douglas said.”It was very respectful.”
Douglas said the House was aware of the heightened attention being paid and intentionally avoided a free-for-all atmosphere.
While the measured responses were intentional, Douglas acknowledged the historic significance of the bill.
“It was quite an event to witness,” Douglas said.
Douglas said while she believes it was the correct decision to remove the flag, she acknowledges it represents a wide array of things, including honor and sacrifice, to many people. Douglas said she believes by removing the flag, those who interpret it as a symbol of heritage are empowered to control its legacy.
Douglas said everyone has a heritage, but actions determine the legacy of that heritage. She said a relocation to a less public spot of honor affords what some may interpret as a symbol of military service a measure of respect.
“I think, in this regard, the heritage with respect to that flag this week, has determined the legacy of that heritage,” Douglas said.
Coleman expressed a desire for healing and progress.
“Hopefully, we can put everything behind us,” Coleman said. “We can put this behind us, move forward and make South Carolina a better state.”
In the opinion of both members of South Carolina State Legislature, removing the controversial flag and placing it in the Confederate Relic Room is a step in a positive direction.
“I think the state is a better place for it,” Coleman said.