South Carolina's Activists Won't Stop At The Flag

"The problem is that racism and hatred is being taught."

The South Carolina leaders who fought to remove the Confederate flag from the campus of the statehouse say that Gov. Nikki Haley's move Monday will only begin to close the state's well-documented racial divide.

In interviews with BuzzFeed News, several of those leaders said removing the flag is only the beginning of the process. For some, the next debate includes measures aimed at criminal and economic justice, or education and housing — issues that disproportionately affect African-Americans in South Carolina.

Leaders calling for added measures say the flag's removal is necessary to heal, and even to honor those slain at Charleston's Emmanuel AME Church last week.

But many fear lowering it from the grounds of the state Capitol won't cure the state of years of racism they say the flag stands for. A debate on what to do after the "symbol that divides us," as Haley said Monday, is removed, is already underway.

"The flag is only a symptom of the problem. The problem is that racism and hatred is being taught," Jaime Harrison, the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told BuzzFeed News. "In order to rectify that we need to have dialogue designed to have people to get know each other."

Harrison, who is considered a rising star in the party, told BuzzFeed News the people of South Carolina need to find a "commonality that people don't always know is there," and is working on calling for a statewide dialogue on race relations.

In the aftermath of the shooting, rallies and petitions to remove the flag swelled in the state Capitol.

Harrison said he was encouraged by a large rally on Saturday, estimating that 75% of the crowd was white. "It gave me such a sense of hope, I have nothing but hope that we can come together as a state," he said.

Haley addressed the widespread calls to remove the Confederate flag at a press conference Monday. "We have stared evil in the eye, and watched good prayerful people get killed in the most sacred of places." Haley said, adding that while the flag represents the past, it "does not represent the future of our great state."

South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn called it a "tremendous first step" in an interview on MSNBC.

Republican Sen. Tim Scott said in a statement released by his office Monday evening that he hopes "the South Carolina General Assembly will move to this topic swiftly, so that our state can continue to move forward."

However, even that largely symbolic move may be a high hurdle to clear. Any legislative measure to remove the flag that suspected shooter Dylann Roof idolized must garner two-thirds support in the South Carolina legislature. "We need to get the votes so we can get the bill to the governor," Harrison said.

Stephen Gilchrist, the chair of the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, called for greater economic prosperity in the state following the events. For African-Americans in South Carolina, economic advancement and the build-out of policies that promote and support the advancement of black business ownership is at the forefront of the discourse related to racial equality.

"The people in South Carolina have been very harmed by these events, and so I would hope that the Gov. Haley would use her bully pulpit to ask all South Carolinians to consider these families and begin to think about what we should do as a state to heal after the type of massacre that's taken place," Gilchrist said. "But at the same time, while taking the flag down is great, there's another step that we all must consider and that's that we continue to push policies that drive economic prosperity for all of the people of South Carolina."

In 2007, 12% of the businesses in South Carolina were black-owned. The state is 28% black according to the latest census data.

"We need to have a serious dialogue in this state about what divides us," state Sen. Marlon Kimpson told CNN Monday. "I am particularly interested in economic empowerment. I have asked many major municipalities here in Charleston and the publicly funded projects, how much of that money is spread [out to] minority contractors and other people of color? Until we include everyone in the process, particularly with our publicly funded projects, we can't bring all South Carolinians along. Economics will certainly be on the agenda."

Other leaders are pointing to the removal of the flag and fallout from the shooting of nine victims as a flashpoint to ease the state's history of racial tension.

A petition to remove the flag was started Thursday morning by a woman named Karen Hunter. The number of signatures ballooned to well over 500,000 Monday afternoon.

But bills and measures can only go so far, leaving South Carolinians pondering a much deeper problem.

"How do you penetrate that into the hearts and minds of people?" Harrison asked. "That's something you can't legislate a cure for."