South Carolina lawmakers agreed overwhelmingly Tuesday to extend their legislative session to allow a debate on whether to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. The House voted 103-10 to approve debate while the Senate conducted a voice vote just a day after Republican Gov. Nikki Haley called on the Legislature to act quickly to remove the divisive symbol from the grounds of the Capitol.
It does not mean the flag will be taken down -- at least not yet. Instead, the votes extended the legislative session so a bill to remove the flag could be considered. The Legislature already was due to convene Tuesday before Haley's call to action to discuss the budget. If the Legislature had not voted to extend the session to consider removal of the flag, Haley had threatened to convene an emergency session. Once the Legislature brings an actual vote on the flag's removal bill, it will require approval of two-thirds of the state House and Senate.
The call to remove the flag comes less than a week after the Charleston shooting that killed nine people in a historic black church. A 21-year-old white man who wanted to incite a "race war" has been charged in the killings. Among the nine dead was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also served in the Senate. President Barack Obama is expected to deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral. In debate prior to the vote on whether to consider flag legislation, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a Democrat, asked lawmakers be sensitive to the families of the dead.
"I ask that in the memory of Mr. Pinckney that we are generous in spirit, gracious in our conversation and please -- even if we disagree, let's agree to disagree agreeably," Cobb-Hunter said. "Those nine families have shown us how to do it. I would strongly suggest we take a cue from them."
In the days after the shooting in Charleston, photographs from the shooter's Facebook account and personal website circulated showing the young man waving the Confederate flag and holding a gun. In other photos, Dylann Storm Roof was pictured with clothes sporting patches of the white-supremacy regime flags from apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia. On Roof's purported website is a racist manifesto that discusses his plans to insight violence between races through his actions.
The flag has been the recipient of concentrated outrage since, with national leaders including Obama and presidential candidates calling for the flag to be taken down. In the day after the attack, while the American and state flags of South Carolina flew at half-staff on the statehouse grounds in Columbia in respect for the victims in Charleston, the Confederate flag noticeably remained at full-staff. By law, the flag only can be taken down or moved by a vote from the Legislature. The flag reportedly is padlocked at full-staff.
Major retailers -- including Amazon, Walmart, eBay and Sears -- stores have joined the chorus against the flag, issuing statements saying they would no longer sell products depicting the Stars and Bars.