South Carolina legislature debates Confederate flag presence at state capitol grounds

Reuters / Tami Chappell
The South Carolina Senate voted 37-3 in favor of removing the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds. The vote in the state House of Representatives is expected later in the week.

Prior to the final vote, the Senate decided to table any amendments to the removal bill, according to The Post and Courier. Conservative Republican Lee Bright had offered an amendment to the bill which would put the flag's fate in the hands of voters. Another amendment would have allowed the flag to fly on capitol grounds on Confederate Memorial Day.

Sens. Bright, Harvey Peeler, and Danny Verdin were the only votes against the flag's removal.

Senators who have long argued for the flag's maintained position on the capitol grounds changed their tune on Monday, calling the Confederate flag a symbol of racial oppression and not an honorific of Confederate soldiers who fought and died in the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. The flag, in fact, only became popular in the 1960s as a symbol of the American South's opposition to racial integration.

READ MORE: States, stores pull Confederate flag in wake of Charleston shooting

The Confederate flag "has more to do with what was going on in the 1960s as opposed to the 1860s," said Republican Sen. Larry Martin, long a fierce defender of the flag. Martin said he changed his mind following the shooting deaths of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina last month. According to police, the shooter chose the historically black church based on his white supremacist views.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, a black Democrat, spoke from the Senate floor on Monday, saying he regretted a compromise he helped pass in 2000 that took the Confederate flag off the state capitol dome and to its current location in front of the capitol, in a soldier's memorial. He said his ancestor, Ishmael Jackson, was a freed slave who joined the Union army.

"You said we lost the war. No we didn't. Not Ishmael Jackson and the 57 percent of people who looked like him. As far as they are concerned, they won the war," Jackson said, according to the Associated Press.

READ MORE: Confederate flag in S. Carolina ‘belongs in a museum,’ not in the air – Obama

A survey of South Carolina state legislators spearheaded by the Associated Press, The Post and Courier, and the South Carolina Press Association found that at least 33 senators and 83 House members agreed with Governor Nikki Haley's conclusion following the Charleston shooting that the flag should be removed from the capitol grounds. Those numbers exceed the two-thirds majority required in both chambers to move the flag.

Among the state senators in support of removing the flag is Sen. Paul Thurmond, son of former US senator and South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond, one of America's most infamous segregationists.

Some Republican legislators have said they would be open to replacing the current Confederate flag -- a red background with a blue cross and white stars -- with a Confederate flag less associated with secession from the US, slavery, and the Jim Crow segregation laws that followed the Civil War.

Yet Democrats said they could not support any flag associated with the Confederacy.

"There is no good-looking Confederate flag. It all stands for the same thing — secession," said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Post and Courier reported that dozens of protesters, both supporters and opponents of the flag, have gathered on the capitol grounds to demonstrate amid dozens of law enforcement officers.