The council for South Carolina's Berkeley County, just north of Charleston, where a gunman killed nine people in a historic church last Wednesday, voted in favor of a resolution on Monday night that urges the state government in Columbia to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds. The vote comes hours after the governor, Republican Nikki Haley, gave a speech calling for the removal of the flag.
The Berkeley County Council voted 5-0 in favor of the resolution, with three members abstaining from their vote. Backlash against the flag’s presence on the state Capitol grounds has been particularly pointed after it was noticed that the Confederate flag outside of the State House flew at full-mast the day after the church shooting last week, even while the U.S. and state flags flew at half-mast.
“For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble. Traditions of history, of heritage and of ancestry,” Haley said Monday afternoon, with state and federal lawmakers at her side. “The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people of our state who respect and, in many ways, revere it.”
In her speech, Haley recognized the diverging perspectives on the flag and the sensitive history of the symbol, which is seen by some as an honor to the state’s ancestors and to others as a potent racist symbol. She was joined by several national political figures, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Lindsey Graham, in calling for the flag to be taken down.
The flag had been moved from its former position at the top of the State House dome in 2000 as a part of a compromise deal within the legislature. Under South Carolina law, the state legislature must make all decisions regarding the Confederate flag, and any vote that might take place this summer would require a two-thirds approval rating. Haley asked the legislature on Monday to vote to extend the session during a budget meeting tomorrow, even though the official session ended earlier in June. If the legislature decides not to take a vote to debate on the flag in the near term, Haley has said that she will use her power as governor to call an emergency legislative session that could take longer and would eat into vacation time.
Not everyone was overjoyed with the calls to remove the flag. Support for the flag in South Carolina is particularly high, with around 60 percent of South Carolinians last year indicating they wanted the flag to stay up.
“TIME FOR A NEW COUNTY COUNCIL. NO VOTES FOR THESE PEOPLE NEXT ELECTION. IF YOU DONT LIKE THE FLAG MOVE OUT OF THE STATE,” one commenter wrote on the ABC affiliate’s website announcing the Berkeley County vote.
Last Wednesday, a 21-year-old white man entered a predominantly black and historic church with a gun and killed nine people. In the ensuing days, it was discovered that the suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, had sat through a prayer service for nearly an hour before carrying out the attack. Roof’s personal website, it was later discovered, featured photos of him waving a Confederate flag and holding a handgun. Also on the website was a racist manifesto that indicated Roof wanted to start a "race war."