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Confederate flag controversy: Nikki Haley, South Carolina governor, calls for removal of flag

South Carolina's governor declared Monday that the Confederate flag should be removed from the statehouse grounds as she acknowledged that its use as a symbol of hatred by the man accused of killing nine black church members has made it too divisive for the state to display in such a public space.

Announcement follows shooting of nine black church members

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said that the Confederate flag should come down from the grounds of the state capitol. (Tim Dominick/Associated Press)

South Carolina's governor declared Monday that the Confederate flag should be removed from the statehouse grounds as she acknowledged that its use as a symbol of hatred by the man accused of killing nine black church members has made it too divisive for the state to display in such a public space.

Governor Nikki Haley's about-face comes just days after authorities charged Dylann Storm Roof, 21, with murder. The white man appeared in photos waving Confederate flags and burning or desecrating U.S. flags, and purportedly wrote of fomenting racial violence. Survivors told police he hurled racial insults during the attack.

"The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war. We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening," Haley said, flanked by Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites who joined her call.

"My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move our state forward in harmony, and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in Heaven," Haley said.

The massacre inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has suddenly made removing the flag — long thought politically impossible in South Carolina — the go-to position, even for conservative Republican politicians.

Haley was flanked by Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, now running for president, as well as South Carolina's junior Republican senator, Tim Scott, and Democratic Representative Jim Clyburn, both of whom are black. Within moments, her call was echoed by the Republican Party chairman and the top GOP lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Haley urged the state's GOP-led House and Senate to debate the issue no later than this summer. If not, she said she will call a special session and force them to resolve it. "I will use that authority for the purpose of the legislature removing the flag from the statehouse grounds," she said.

Making any changes to the banner requires a two-thirds supermajority in both houses under the terms of a 15-year-old deal that moved it from atop the Statehouse to a position next to a monument to Confederate soldiers out front.

The last governor who called for the flag's removal, Republican David Beasley, was hounded out of office in 1998 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The group's influence also doomed his front-running Senate campaign for the seat won by Republican Jim DeMint.

"Do not associate the cowardly actions of a racist to our Confederate Banner," the group's South Carolina commander, Leland Summers, said in a statement. "There is absolutely no link between The Charleston Massacre and The Confederate Memorial Banner. Don't try to create one."

Haley acknowledged there are very different views about what it symbolizes.

"For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble," she said. "The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect, and in many ways, revere it."

'A deeply offensive symbol'

For many others, "the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past," she said.

South Carolina can survive and thrive "while still being home to both of those viewpoints."

"We do not need to declare a winner and a loser," she said. "This is a moment in which we can say that the flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state."The Confederate battle flag was placed atop the Statehouse dome in the 1960s as an official protest of the civil rights movement. After mass protests, it was moved to the grounds in 2000, as part of a compromise between a group of black lawmakers and the Republicans who have controlled South Carolina for a quarter-century.

That deal kept it flying high since the shooting, even as state and U.S. flags were lowered to honor the victims. It also means that when thousands of mourners honor Emanuel's slain senior pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, they will likely see the Confederate flag before or after filing past his coffin in the statehouse.

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