Washington: One hundred and fifty years after the end of the American Civil War, South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union, is set to banish the rebel Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House.
The State’s Indian-American governor Nikki Haley used nine pens Thursday to sign a law to remove the flag, which has fluttered in front of the 19th-century capitol building in Columbia, for over half a century, Friday and send it to a museum.
Each pen, said the daughter of immigrant Sikh parents from India, will go to the families of the nine victims of last month’s massacre by a white young man at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
By showing forgiveness after the shooting, she said, they caused the change of heart that led to passage of the history-making bill.
“This is a story about the history of South Carolina and how the action of nine individuals laid out this long chain of events that forever showed the state of South Carolina what love and forgiveness looks like,” said Haley.
“When the emotions start to fade, the history of actions that took place by everyone in South Carolina is one we can all be proud of,” she said.
Crowds wanting to be part of the event gathered around the red battle flag with a blue cross (X) with 13 white stars representing each of the breakaway states on the State House grounds and jammed the lobby to witness the signing.
The Civil War (1860-65) icon used by Confederate general Robert E. Lee has flown at the State House for more than five decades, first on the Capitol dome and inside House and Senate chambers and then next to the Confederate Solider Monument where it flies now.
Haley, a Republican, signed the bill hours after the State House of Representatives voted 94 to 20 to bring down the flag after a 13-hour at times heated debate with some lawmakers wanting to protect the heritage of Confederate ancestors.
Haley gave the call for the flag to come down 22 days ago after photographs of the alleged killer Dylann Roof waving the Confederate flag in one hand and holding a gun in the other ignited a nationwide debate on the issue.
Businesses, including retailers Walmart and Amazon, and other state leaders in Alabama and North Carolina have followed with bans on Confederate battle flags.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest praised South Carolina legislators who “came together in bipartisan fashion to vote overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate battle flag.” “That’s good news and that’s progress,” he said.
“Confederate flag removal marks a new era for South Carolina,” said the local State newspaper in an editorial.
An opinion piece in the Washington Post said: “Taking down the Confederate battle flag on the statehouse grounds is a belated step forward.”