Amid one of the darkest moments in South Carolina’s recent past, Gov. Nikki Haley and dozens of other state leaders have given us hope.
Democrats joined Republicans – and whites stood beside blacks – on Monday to call for removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. The unusual display of unity – during a news conference inside the Statehouse – brings the state closer than it has ever been to forever removing this divisive symbol from the people’s capitol.
The General Assembly now must follow its leaders’ example and vote this summer to move the flag.
The call to remove the flag comes as the state continues grieving the slaughter of nine African-Americans during a Bible study in Charleston on Wednesday night. Dylann Roof of Columbia, a 21-year-old white man, joined the Bible study at Emanuel AME Church for an hour before shooting the parishioners, authorities said.
During the attack, witnesses said, he made vile comments about blacks.
Later, Roof told authorities he wanted to start a race war, according to reports. Photos have surfaced of him proudly displaying the Confederate flag.
But South Carolina’s response to the massacre has been uplifting. Prayer vigils have been held across the state. Donations have poured in. Neighboring churches, white and black, have reached out to support Emanuel. A multitude of state and local leaders have vowed to bring the attacker to justice.
On Friday, relatives of the victims stunned many when they told Roof during a court hearing that they forgive him. “They truly have shown the world what South Carolina looks like at our best,” Haley said Monday.
But that image of South Carolina is tainted by the battle flag’s presence on the Statehouse grounds. National news reports about the shooting not only feature the state’s compassionate and determined response, they also show the battle flag just yards from the Statehouse steps.
Haley correctly said on Monday that many South Carolinians genuinely believe the flag is a noble symbol. For them, the flag honors the memory of the men who answered the state’s call in a time of war.
We agree with Haley that those South Carolinians are not racist. They are not filled with hate, and they do not worship evil.
“The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag,” Haley said. “In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect, and in many ways, revere it.”
But the problem for South Carolinians who honor the flag is that too many others, like Roof, have used it as a symbol of hate, bigotry and intimidation. As a result, many of our friends and neighbors see the flag as a symbol of oppression.
Those who believe the flag honors heroes of our past have other ways to display it.
But if South Carolinians are filled with the love and grace we’ve shown since Wednesday, how can we continue to display on our Statehouse grounds a flag that, to millions, is a sign of hate?
If we marvel at the faith and the forgiveness of those most hurt by the massacre, how can we still prominently fly – at their state capitol – a flag that offends them and that offended their slain loved ones?
Since Wednesday, we’ve shown the world we are better than that.
Dylann Roof said he wanted to start a race war. But South Carolinians said no. Now, we have the chance to say more. We have the chance to tell the world we will no longer let the flag needlessly hurt our friends and neighbors.
In what may have been her finest moment as governor, Nikki Haley said that on Monday. The group standing nearby echoed her.
But the General Assembly has the final say.
For the sake of all South Carolinians and in honor of the memory of nine souls in heaven, the General Assembly should shout it to the world.
Move the flag.