South Carolina's governor has signed a law to permanently bring down the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol. The law comes after nine African-Americans were massacred at a black church.
The Confederate flag is to no longer fly at South Carolina's statehouse from Friday morning onwards. Surrounded by cheering legislators and grieving families, Governor Nikki Haley mentioned that the apparently white supremacist murder of nine people at a Wednesday Bible study last month had brought new shame and sadness to the state, the first to secede from the union, in 1860.
"Today, I am very proud to say that it is a great day in South Carolina," Haley said on Thursday.
The alleged shooter, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof, had posed with the flag. After the June 17 massacre, Haley called for removal of the flag, which Southern states had flown in their 1861-65 war to defend slavery. However, when Clementa C. Pinckney, a state senator and the minister of the church, lay in state in the capitol at the end of June, the flag still flew outside.
'Enough about heritage'
The state senate passed a bill to remove the flag earlier this week. The legislation cleared the lower house 92-20 early Thursday, following 13 hours of debate. Moves by several white Republican legislators to keep the secessionist flag flying outraged Representative Jenny Horne, a party member who identified herself as a descendant of Jefferson Davis, the president of the pro-slavery Confederacy in the Civil War.
"This flag offends my friends," Horne said, naming and pointing to African American legislators. "I am sorry: I have heard enough about heritage," she added. "I cannot believe we do not have the heart in this body do to something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday."
On the street across from Thursday's signing ceremony, a handful of protesters gathered. White defenders of the Stars and Bars call the flag an important symbol of the South's heritage and a way to honor those who died fighting for the Confederacy in the 1861-65 Civil War.
In Washington, Republicans had introduced a controversial amendment for a vote Thursday that would preserve the right to place the flag on graves on federal property. Democrats reacted with outrage, with one African-American congressman, Hakeem Jeffries, bringing a Confederate flag to the House floor and insisting it represented not Southern heritage but "racial hatred and oppression."
"Let's choose racial progress over racial poison," Jeffries said. "Let's choose togetherness over treason."
The white supremacist Ku Klux Klan plans a pro-flag rally in South Carolina capital Columbia on July 18. The mass murders in Charleston have shed a fresh light on racist violence in the US.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)