South Carolina Senate votes to banish Confederate flag to museum

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South Carolina's Senate Votes to Remove Confederate Battle Flag


South Carolina's Senate passed legislation Tuesday to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol's grounds, where it has flown for five decades despite being viewed by many as a symbol of slavery.

A bill to banish the flag from the State House grounds to a museum easily passed a third and final 36-3 vote in the Senate. It was headed to the state House of Representatives, which voted to bring it to the floor for debate on Wednesday.

The legislation was deemed an impossibility only months ago. But it gained strong bipartisan support since nine black churchgoers were gunned down on June 17 during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, about two hours southeast of the state capital, Columbia. Photos of Dylann Roof, the white man charged in the shooting, showed him posing with a Confederate flag on a website bearing a racist manifesto. A grand jury indicted Roof, 21, on nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.

The flag's defenders argue that it is part of South Carolina's heritage, representing those who fought and died for the rebellious Southern states that formed the Confederacy in the 1861-1865 Civil War.

Republican state Senator Lee Bright, who is white, argued on Tuesday that the flag had been unfairly tied to slavery. He noted that many leaders in the 18th-century fight for American independence from Britain were slave owners.

"Not one Confederate flag flew over a slave ship," Bright asserted.

While most politicians recognize that the banner is part of the state's heritage, many agree it should no longer be flown in public places.

The flag was raised atop the State House in 1961 - along with the U.S. flag and the state flag - in what critics say was a deliberate slap in the face to the black civil rights movement. In 2000, it was moved to a Civil War memorial for the Confederate dead only yards from the entrance to the capitol.

Support for the flag in the Republican-controlled legislature has evaporated amid a wave of sympathy for the victims and their families, who were widely acclaimed for expressing unconditional forgiveness for Roof at his bond hearing less than 48 hours after the murders.

Several politicians say the shootings opened their eyes to the flag's divisiveness and what it means to South Carolina's black population.

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Confederate flag supporters protest at South Carolina statehouse
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South Carolina Senate votes to banish Confederate flag to museum
Pro-confederate flag demonstrators Alice Horky wears confederate flag cowboy boots as she protests atop the South Carolina State House steps in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. There has been a growing clamor for the flag -- branded 'a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation' by President Barack Obama on Friday -- to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia. Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Jamie Lewis (R) stands over as a fellow demonstrator (C) takes a picture of her six-month old son Weston Rich (L) holding a confederate flag during a rally outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. There has been a growing clamor for the flag -- branded 'a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation' by President Barack Obama on Friday -- to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia. Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-confederate flag demonstrators Jim Horky (R) and his wife Alice (L) stand outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. There has been a growing clamor for the flag -- branded 'a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation' by President Barack Obama on Friday -- to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia. Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Protesters argue with a group of demonstrators on the grounds of the South Carolina State House while calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Pro-confederate flag demonstrators walk down the steps of the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. There has been a growing clamor for the flag -- branded 'a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation' by President Barack Obama on Friday -- to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia. Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Ben Crosby, of Walterboro, South Carolina joins a group of demonstrators on the steps of the South Carolina State House while calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Hugh Crawford of Lexington, South Carolina speaks with his daughter Holli Crawford, age 7, as they join a group of demonstrators on the grounds of the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
A pro-confederate flag demonstrator drives by chanting as others wave the confederate flag outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. There has been a growing clamor for the flag -- branded 'a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation' by President Barack Obama on Friday -- to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia. Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Jamie Lewis, of Aiken, South Carolina, and her 6 month old son, Weston Rich, join a group of demonstrators on the grounds of the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Demonstrators protest at the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Pro-confederate flag demonstrator William Wells (C) chants 'heritage not hate' next to an anti-confederate flag demonstrator (R) outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. There has been a growing clamor for the flag -- branded 'a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation' by President Barack Obama on Friday -- to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia. Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Alice Dixie Horky, of Greenville, South Carolina joins a group of demonstrators on the steps of the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Ben Crosby, of Walterboro, South Carolina joins a group of demonstrators at the South Carolina State House while calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Demonstrators protest at the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Storm clouds gather as pro-confederate flag demonstrators gather outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. There has been a growing clamor for the flag -- branded 'a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation' by President Barack Obama on Friday -- to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia. Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-confederate flag demonstrators march to the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. There has been a growing clamor for the flag -- branded 'a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation' by President Barack Obama on Friday -- to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia. Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Demonstrators protest at the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Katie Crum, of Columbia, South Carolina joins a group of demonstrators on the grounds of the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Jaluladin Abdul-Hamib (C) argues with a group of demonstrators on the grounds of the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 27: Hugh Crawford of Lexington, South Carolina speaks with his daughter Holli Crawford, age 7, as they join a group of demonstrators on the grounds of the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain on the State House grounds June 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Earlier in the week South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed support for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the wake of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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The Senate vote to take down the flag exceeded expectations. The legislation may face a stiffer challenge when the 124-member House begins debating it on Wednesday. But it still appears to have the two-thirds majority support it needs to pass, according to a local media poll.

The bill could be approved as early as Thursday. Republican Governor Nikki Haley said she would order the flag taken down as soon as it becomes law.

South Carolina House Democratic leaders on Tuesday urged fellow legislators to follow the Senate's lead.

"Take the flag down and give the people of South Carolina nothing to fight about. ... This is our moment. This is our time," Todd Rutherford, a black representative who is House minority leader, told a news conference.

(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Peter Galloway and Jonathan Oatis)

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