The South Carolina Senate on Tuesday took a final vote, 36-3, to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. The bill will now be sent to the House, where its fate is less certain.
The South Carolina legislature on Monday took a key step toward removing the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds as lawmakers engaged in a passionate debate over the issue.
Under bill S. 897, the Confederate battle flag would be permanently removed from Capitol grounds and transferred to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia for "appropriate display."
The Senate voted 37-3 in favor of a second reading of the bill. A third reading, set for Tuesday, will require a two-thirds majority of 30 or more senators in order to pass. If that happens, the bill will move on to the House, where it needs at least 75 votes before it can go to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for final approval.
Cries for the removal of the flag amplified in the wake of the June 17 killing of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston. The suspect in the shooting, Dylann Roof, was seen in photos holding the Confederate flag. The flag was also mentioned in an online manifesto about white supremacy thought to belong to the 21-year-old.
Haley, along with other state officials, have been among those calling for the removal of the Confederate flag, with the governor describing it as "a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past."
On Monday, Sen. Larry Martin spoke on the history of the Confederate flag, noting that it did not fly on the statehouse grounds until the 1960s.
"The flag wasn't displayed for a 100 years on the statehouse grounds," Martin said, adding that it was put up for the centennial celebrations of the Civil War.
Referring to the political upheaval during the civil rights era, he added: "The heritage that the flag stands ... has more to do with what was going on the 1960s as opposed to the 1860s."
Martin added that while the flag needs to be respected and honored, "it isn't part of our future."
"It's part of our past and I think we need to leave it there," he said.
Sen. Vincent Sheehen, who introduced the bill, urged the legislature to vote in support of the bill, saying "it's the right thing to do."
Removing the flag, he said, was "one small step that reduces the culture of division" in South Carolina.
"It's not about heritage or history or hate. It's about healing wounds that stretch back many, many years," Sheehen said.
But Sen. Lee Bright sought an amendment to the bill that would authorize a statewide referendum on the issue, saying, "the majority of South Carolinians would like to see the flag up and would like to prove that with a vote."
He said that the blame of "one deranged lunatic" is being placed on "people that hold their Southern heritage high."
The proposed amendment, however, was tabled by a vote of 36-3.
Bright also failed in his effort to have the Confederate battle flag replaced with the first national flag of the Confederacy, known as the "Stars and Bars."
"I want us to determine if its about that flag or is it about the more than 20,000 confederate soldiers, both black and white, that fought for your state," he said.
The Senate also voted 22-17 to table Sen. Danny Verdin's proposed amendment that would allow for the Confederate flag to be flown on statehouse grounds on Confederate Memorial Day on May 10. Verdin, who spoke for more than 45 minutes on his proposal, was a Division Commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans from 1998 to 2000.
Sen. Harvey Peeler, who was against the bill, said that removing the Confederate flag "would be like removing the tattoo from a loved one's corpse."
"It won't changed the loved one's obituary," he said. "Removing the flag won't change history."
A survey by the Associated Press, the Post and Courier newspaper, and the South Carolina Press Association found that at least 33 senators and 83 House members agreed to vote in favor of removing the flag from Capitol grounds.
The debate has triggered both pro-Confederate and anti-flag protests in the state. Two activists were arrested for scaling the pole and taking down the Confederate flag outside the State Capitol last week.