A growing backlash in Southern states against flying the Confederate battle flag spread to the U.S. Congress on Thursday when Democratic lawmakers aimed to remove the banner from parts of the Capitol, but it quickly ran into opposition in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi sought House approval of a resolution requiring the removal of state flags containing any portion of the Civil-War era Confederate battle flag from the House side of the U.S. Capitol.
The flag is a source of pride for many in the South and a remembrance of its soldiers killed 150 years ago but others see it as a symbol of oppression and of a dark chapter when 11 rebelling Confederate states fought to keep blacks enslaved.
The issue has taken center stage after a 21-year-old white man allegedly shot nine black worshippers to death during Bible study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week. The first of the funerals for the victims was held on Thursday.
The suspect, Dylann Roof, had posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos posted on a website that also displayed a racist manifesto. He has been charged with nine counts of murder and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the attack as a hate crime.
Confederate flags around the U.S.
Confederate flags currently around US
Confederate flag debate reaches Congress
WASHINGTON, DC- JUNE 21: Confederate flag covers a window of a store in a small town in Georgia. The Confederate flag (aka the Rebel Flag) can be seen in plain view in almost any part of the United States although sightings are more common in the South. Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC- JUNE 21: A confederate flag reflected in the window of a gift shop that sells them in Seligman, Arizona. The Confederate flag (aka the Rebel Flag) can be seen in plain view in almost any part of the United States although sightings are more common in the South. Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC- JUNE 21: The South has more than its share of public reminders that the area is religious and tends to be conservative. Confederate flags in yards and on vehicles are common sights in the area. This truck was seen in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The Confederate flag (aka the Rebel Flag) can be seen in plain view in almost any part of the United States although sightings are more common in the South. Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC- JUNE 21: The entrance to the Redneck Yacht Club in Yulee, Florida.The Confederate flag (aka the Rebel Flag) can be seen in plain view in almost any part of the United States although sightings are more common in the South. Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE, 22: The sun sets on the Confederate flag located at The Confederate Memorial on the grounds of the state capital in Columbia, SC on Monday, June 22, 2015 with the citys Main Street seen in the background. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday that the Confederate flag near the state Capitol should be moved, reversing an earlier position she had held and adding a powerful voice to the growing chorus of calls for the flags removal. (Photo by Brett Flashnick/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Trevor Jackson displays a Confederate flag during a rally held by Sons of Confederate Veterans in Shawnee, Oklahoma, U.S. March 4, 2017. "They are veterans and deserve to be honored" said Jackson. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
GREENVILLE, SC - MARCH 19: Members of the South Carolina Secessionist Party fly a Confederate battle flag in a parking garage beside the Bon Secours Wellness Arena prior to the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 19, 2017 in Greenville, South Carolina. The group has pledged to fly Confederate battle flags at all major sporting events in South Carolina until the Confederate flag that once flew at the SC State House is displayed at the SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Confederate Flag Displayed With Us Flag On Front Porch Near Window, Backroads Of Virginia, October 26, 2016. (Photo by: Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - FEBRUARY 25: An American and a Confederate battle flag fly at a motorcycle club on Thursday, February 25, 2016 in Heath Springs, South Carolina. The South Carolina Democratic Primary will be held Saturday, February 27. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Confederate flags hang above various rifles that are displayed for sale during the Fall 2015 Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in West Point, KY, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. The Machine Gun Shoot is a three day bi-annual event that attracts gun dealers, collectors, and enthusiasts from all across America in what is considered one of the largest gun shows in the world dealing specifically with high caliber weaponry. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CHARLESTON, SC - JULY 14: Confederate flags fly over the graves of Confederate soldiers burried in Magnolia Cemetery on July 14, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Some 3,000 Civil War veterans from South Carolina are reported buried in Magnolia Cemetery, originally opened in 1850 on land donated by a rice plantation. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
House members representing states with the Confederate battle flag image on their state flags still would be allowed to display the banners at their offices under Thompson's plan.
But Republicans, who control the House, repelled the move. The chamber in a mostly partisan 240-184 vote sent the legislation to a committee to mull.
"They (Republicans) have ground it to a halt," Trey Baker, counsel for Thompson, said of the House vote. Baker said some tunnels in the Capitol basement and other areas have collections of state flags, which were the target of Thompson's legislation.
Since the attack, some Southern state governors, including in Alabama and South Carolina, have voiced opposition to government buildings in their states flying the banner.
Also on Thursday, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown introduced legislation punishing states that issue specialty automobile license plates bearing the Confederate flag.
Brown's bill would reduce federal funding for those states' transportation programs.
"States that want to allow drivers to continue flaunting this symbol of racism and violence on government-issued license plates should realize that continuing to do so would jeopardize a portion of their federal transportation funds," the Ohio senator said.