In a series of significant political moves, national Republicans on Monday joined in calling for the removal of the Confederate Battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol in South Carolina, saying the killing last week of nine black churchgoers showed the need for change on a symbol that has long been considered divisive.
“After the tragic, hate-filled shooting in Charleston, it is only appropriate that we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who had initially resisted talk about any change.
“I do not believe the vast majority of folks who support the flag have hate in their hearts,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the first black to win a U.S. Senate seat since Reconstruction.
“However, for so many others in our state, the flag represents pain and oppression,” Scott said.
After letting their colleagues in South Carolina take the lead, top Republicans in Congress were quick to follow suit.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell labeled the flag a “painful reminder of racial oppression,” as he also endorsed a change in South Carolina.
“This flag has become too divisive and too hurtful for too many of our fellow Americans,” said Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus.
But the parade of Republican Party announcements happened only after Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) said she wanted the battle flag removed from the state capitol grounds in Columbia; it had taken her several days to arrive at that decision.
The Confederate battle flag was only flown from the South Carolina Capitol starting in the 1960’s – all to protest the changes from the Civil Rights movement.
After a new round of protests in the 1990’s, the compromise struck by Republicans and black lawmakers was to allow the battle flag to be flown on the capitol grounds, but not over the State Capitol itself.
While Republican leaders shifted their stance on the flag, the White House quietly tried to emphasize its constant position.
“The President talked about this as long ago as six or seven years ago where he shared his view that the Confederate flag should be taken down and placed in a museum where it belongs,” said President Obama’s Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
The change wasn’t just in South Carolina, as the State House Speaker of Mississippi made clear he thought the official flag of the Magnolia State needs to change, to remove it’s own Confederate emblem.
“I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed,” Speaker Philip Gunn told the Clarion Ledger-Star newspaper.