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Nikki Haley: "Time to move" Confederate flag from statehouse grounds

Last Updated Jun 22, 2015 4:58 PM EDT

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday that it's "time to move" the Confederate flag away from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse.

"One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come," Haley said at a press conference flanked by both black and white lawmakers from South Carolina. "There will be some in our state who will see this as a sad moment. I respect that. But know this: For good and for bad, whether it is on the statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina. But this is a moment in which we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state."

The press conference came less than a week after nine people were shot to death in a Charleston church by a man who allegedly embraced the banner as a symbol of white power. South Carolina's two senators -- presidential candidate Lindsey Graham and Sen. Tim Scott, one of only two black U.S. senators, joined Haley for the press conference.

A growing number of people have called for the Confederate flag to be removed in the wake of the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. The man accused of the massacre -- 21-year-old Dylann Roof -- was pictured with a license plate bearing the Confederate flag. The flag also remains an offensive symbol to many people because it was the emblem of the pro-slavery South during the Civil War.

Haley called Roof's view of the flag "sick and twisted" but defended South Carolinians who view the flag "as a symbol of respect, integrity and duty" and a memorial to ancestors who served their state during a time of conflict.

"That is not hate, nor is it racism," Haley said. She went on to say that others in the state see the flag as "a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past." While people will be allowed to fly the flag on their private property, she said the statehouse is "different," and the events of the past week call for a different view.

Religious and political leaders in Charleston had pledged to push for the flag's removal at a rally Tuesday. It is currently flying at full mast - unlike the U.S. and South Carolina flags, which have been lowered to half mast - due to state law.

The state's Republican leadership has resisted calls to remove the flag for years. In a 2000 political compromise, the flag was moved from the top of the Capitol to a Confederate monument in front of the statehouse. As part of the compromise, any other changes to the flag's location must be approved by two-thirds of both bodies of the South Carolina legislature.

Haley promised to use her authority as governor to call back the legislature if they do not take steps to debate the removal of the flag this summer. She also promised that the views of those who want the flag to keep flying will be respected in the debate.

"This statehouse belongs to all of us," she said.

She also asked that the focus remain on the victims of the shooting.

In the past, Haley has called the flag a "sensitive issue" and defended it during her 2014 reelection campaign by saying she hadn't heard any CEOs complain about its presence. But she has held back her opinion as the tragedy unfolded, telling "CBS This Morning" last week that, "my job is to heal the people of this state."

Just one day ago, Scott said he would wait for the funerals of the victims before weighing in on the flag controversy.

"There's no doubt that South Carolina has a rich and provocative history. And that flag is a part of the history. And for some, that flag represents that history. And for so many others, it represents a pain and oppression," he said in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I am going to make sure that I'm a part of that conversation. My voice will be clear. My position will be stated. ... I have made the commitment to waiting till after the funeral to start that debate. And I'm going to honor that commitment."

Graham released a statement Monday saying, "Today, I am urging that the Confederate Battle Flag be removed from statehouse grounds to an appropriate location," and he went on to praise the shooting victims for their reaction to the murders. "The love and forgiveness displayed by victims of this horrific, racially motivated shooting, along with all the people of Charleston, is an example to us all," Graham wrote.

"After the tragic, hate-filled shooting in Charleston, it is only appropriate that we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag.

But until Monday, Graham had defended the flying of the flag.

"We're not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere. It's him ... not the flag," the Republican senator told CNN on Friday. "It works here, that's what the statehouse agreed to do. You could probably visit other places in the country near some symbol that doesn't quite strike you right."

CBS News' John Nolen and Steve Chaggaris contributed to this report.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.