Watch CBSN Live

Rally against Confederate flag draws hundreds in S.C.

Several Republican presidential candidates rushed to support the move
Several Republican presidential candidates ru... 02:49

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- With heavy security and heightened expectations, several hundred people gathered Tuesday in the sweltering summer heat to demand the removal of the Confederate battle flag from atop a 30-foot pole outside South Carolina's Statehouse. Lawmakers gathering for budget votes could be sweating as well, forced by their governor to declare their positions on the historic but divisive symbol.

More than a dozen officers from different police agencies were positioned in the Statehouse lobby. More were outside, where people mobilized by the shootings of nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston last week chanted "bring it down, bring it down."

Some protesters held signs supporting Gov. Nikki Haley's call Monday to remove the flag and put it in a museum.

"The governor and members of the leadership of South Carolina made a great step forward by indicating that the flag should come down," said Malcolm Graham, a former North Carolina state senator and the brother of shooting victim Cynthia Hurd. "Whether it comes down today, tomorrow or next week, it's important that there's one flag that all citizens of South Carolina are governed by."

Clyburn is praising that state's Gov. Nikki H... 01:02

One of the people at the rally was Tom Clements, who says he loved the flag when he studied about his family's history as a teenager, but then he grew up.

Clements, born in Savannah, Georgia, had a poster of photos about his great great grandfather who fought for the Confederacy and three great great uncles who died for the South.

For years, he wouldn't talk publicly about his ancestors even though he was quite proud of what they did.

"The racists took over the memories of the Confederacy," said Clements. "I didn't feel right feeling like I was with them."

Confederate Flag Controversy 08:10

Making any changes to the banner requires a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers under the terms of the 2000 deal that moved a square version of the flag to a monument to Confederate soldiers out front. Just adding the flag to the agenda of a special session to approve the budget also requires two-thirds approval.

Top GOP leaders of the Legislature were noticeably absent when other state and federal Republican officeholders stood with Haley for her stunning announcement Monday, which prompted applause in the Statehouse and spontaneous celebrations outside. Still, state GOP Chairman Matt Moore said the Republican legislative leaders he's talked with are committed to the flag coming down.

"I think both parties are united that it should be done. The legislative process will obviously be a challenge given the rules of both chambers, but with enough political will anything can be done," Moore said. "There is a silent majority of South Carolinians who strongly believe we can have a better future without the flag being on Statehouse grounds."

If the Confederate flag is still flying on Wednesday, when mourners file past the coffin of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney beneath the Statehouse dome, Graham believes people will be more focused on his legacy as a lawmaker and minister than on the banner celebrated by the young white man charged with murdering nine people inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church.

"I think people will be focused on the memory of the senator and not the flag. This is his moment, and not the moment of a political issue," Graham said.

Lawmakers could take up a resolution Tuesday allowing them to add the issue to their special session, but they are unlikely to begin debate until July - after the funerals - when they return to decide whether to override Haley's budget vetoes. Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin said he believes it's both impractical and disrespectful to publicly debate the topic this week.

"I prefer us to not do that out of respect for the services that will be held," said Martin, R-Pickens.

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 a flagpole next to a Confederate monument out front in 2000, as part of a compromise between a group of black lawmakers and the Republicans who have controlled South Carolina since 2001.

For years, South Carolina lawmakers refused to revisit the flag question, citing that bipartisan compromise and saying that renewing the debate would unnecessarily revive painful divisions. But that politically safe response seemed to crumble after the church massacre, as a growing tide of politicians joined the call to remove it.

Haley said that after recent racist violence,... 07:09

Haley, a Republican, then did what a previous Republican governor found to be political suicide: She not only called for flag's removal but pledged to call legislators back to Columbia if they don't deal with it in the next few weeks.

Haley's announcement came days after authorities announced the murder charges against Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white man who told a friend that he had a plan to do something "for the white race" and posed in photos displaying Confederate flags and burning or desecrating U.S. flags.

"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," the governor said.

Like many other politicians in the South, Haley had for years deflected questions about the flag. She stressed that for many, it still represents noble traditions of heritage and duty. But for many others, she said, it is a "deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past."

Leaders of other states swiftly took action as well: Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn becoming his state's first top-tier Republican to call for the Confederate emblem to be removed from the state flag. In Tennessee, both Democrats and Republicans said a bust of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest must be removed from the Senate.

On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered the replacement of vanity license plates depicting the Confederate flag, saying the banner is "hurtful" to too many people.

Walmart is pulling merchandise with Confedera... 00:32

And Wal-Mart announced that it is removing any items from its store shelves and website that feature the Confederate flag.

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.

Confederate statues in South Carolina, Maryland and Texas were discovered defaced this week with the words "Black Lives Matter."

CBS affiliate WCSC in Charleston reports that a second Confederate monument was discovered defaced on Tuesday.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.