COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Confederate flag that flies at the South Carolina Capitol could soon be making its last stand.
The South Carolina House will begin debating the flag’s fate Wednesday. If House members back a Senate bill to take the flag down, Gov. Nikki Haley could sign it into law before the end of the week and the flag would be removed and taken to the Confederate Relic Room.
But some House Republicans are saying not so fast, and plan to offer amendments that would preserve some kind of symbol in front of the Statehouse to honour their Southern ancestors.
One of them, Rep. Mike Pitts, said to banish all flags from the site would be akin to erasing history, including that of his family members in Laurens County and the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.
“I guess my plan for tomorrow is to be a lot like my ancestors were at the Bloody Angle,” Pitts said, referring to part of a Virginia battlefield where fighting raged for nearly 24 hours in 1864, leaving Confederate dead stacked four deep behind their fortifications. “And fight until I have nothing left to fight with.”
Pitts said his favourite amendment proposes flying the flag of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers regiment, a blue banner similar to the state flag with its Palmetto tree and crescent moon but with a wreath around the tree. Similar art is etched on a wall inside the Statehouse, Pitts said.
Pitts didn’t share all his amendments Tuesday, but The Associated Press was able to obtain copies of the more than two dozen proposals.
One would allow a popular vote to determine the flag’s future. Another would allow the rebel banner to fly only on Confederate Memorial Day in May, and a third proposal would replace the Confederate battle flag with a different banner.
Other amendments appear more like parodies than serious alternatives to the Senate bill: One would fly the United States flag upside down above the Statehouse dome, and another would remove all of the monuments at the Statehouse, regardless of whether they honour Confederates.
Any change to the Senate bill is unacceptable to the 46 Democrats in the 124-member House _ a critical number because some Democrats will have to support any bill to take down the flag to reach the two-thirds threshold required by law, Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said.
Rutherford said any flag that goes up beside the monument to Confederate soldiers “will be the new vestige of racism.”
If the House amends the Senate bill, the Senate will have to agree with the changes or lawmakers will have to reconcile their differences in a conference committee, possibly delaying action for weeks. Several senators said the lopsided 36-3 final vote on the flag shows they do not want their bill to change.
“As strong as the support was, it would be absolutely foolish” to attempt to amend the Senate bill, Republican Sen. Larry Martin said.
If the two sides can’t reach an agreement, or the House rejects the Senate bill, the flag debate would likely be dead for this year.
To stress the Senate’s unity after Tuesday’s vote, senators invited the widow of their slain colleague, Clementa Pinckney, to the floor. She stood just inside the door in a black dress, only a few feet from her husband’s desk, which was draped in black cloth with a single white rose on top. Every member stood as she entered and later walked up to her, offering condolences.
“She wanted to show her gratitude,” state Sen. Gerald Malloy said. “As you can see, Clementa shined on her as well. His grace is contagious. It is contagious throughout this state.”
In addition to being a state senator, Clementa Pinckney was the pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. He and eight parishioners were fatally shot during a Bible study in the church on June 17. The suspect appeared in photos brandishing the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate.