South Carolina may finally remove the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds

Reports emerge that GOP Gov. Nikki Haley will reverse course and call for the flag's removal

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published June 22, 2015 4:37PM (EDT)

                      (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The Republican governor of South Carolina is expected to change course and endorse the removal of the Confederate Flag from the State House grounds in Columbia following a murderous shooting rampage at a historical African-American church in Charleston last week.

Governor Nikki Haley will reportedly call for the controversial flag's removal during a 4pm press conference today, according to South Carolina political blog FITSNEWS.

Controversy erupted around the flag that has flown on South Carolina's State House grounds since 1962, when it was put there in defiance of the civil rights movement,  after it flew at full mast the day after the gruesome murder of nine African-American churchgoers by an apparent white supremacist.

Pastor and South Carolina Senator Clementa Pinckney was one of the victims of the church attack. His body will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda where the flag flies right outside.

After pictures of the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, posing in front of a Confederate Flag surfaced calls for the flags removal grew quickly. petition demanding Haley "Remove the Confederate Flag From All Government Places" has already garnered over half a million signatures.

This afternoon's move signals a real shift for the governor who told CBS on Friday that now is not the time to have a political debate over the removal:

What we hope is that we do the things South Carolinians do, which is have the conversation, allow some thoughtful words to be exchanged, be kind about it, come together on what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re trying to do it.  I think the state will start talking about that again, and we’ll see where it goes.

To start having policy conversations with the people of South Carolina, I understand that’s what y’all want. My job is to heal the people of this state.

In 2000, South Carolina Republicans agreed to a "comprise" on the flag after the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce lobbied lawmakers to remove it, moving it from atop the State House dome to a part of the grounds near a Confederate memorial. The NAACP has boycotted the state ever since.

Despite the boycotts and Chamber objections, Haley still cited the opinions of business leaders in her defense of the Confederate Flag in 2014:

What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.

But we really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor. When we appointed the first African-American U.S. senator, that sent a huge message.

S.C. Reps. Doug Brannon and Todd Rutherford have already announced plans to introduce legislation calling for the flag's removal, a move that according to some reports maybe more successful this time around:

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By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Confederate Flag Gop Nikki Haley Racism South Carolina South Carolina Gop