The racially-motivated murders of nine innocent men and women at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston following a Bible study last Wednesday have shaken all of us. I still find it difficult to believe that a person could harbor so much senseless hate that would lead to these horrific crimes.
We have heard that the murderer intended to divide South Carolinians and start a race war. To the contrary, and to the surprise of many around the world, these terrible actions have actually brought South Carolinians together. The unified message of support for the victims’ families and the Emanuel AME Church family in conjunction with South Carolina’s strong denunciation of hate has, I think, been an inspiration to the country. And the remarkable expressions of forgiveness from the victims’ families have been impressive Christian testimonies
Despite the great showing of love and unity, divisions remain. Divisions that many of us failed to recognize or chose to overlook. In recent days it has become exceedingly apparent that the South Carolina Infantry Battle Flag, commonly referred to as the Confederate Battle Flag and flying at the Confederate Soldier Monument on the State House grounds, has become the primary symbol of those divisions. Although the protests began with those who live outside South Carolina, I have received hundreds of emails and calls from our friends and neighbors here at home, asking that the General Assembly remove the battle flag.
At the same time, I have also heard from hundreds of well-meaning and sincere South Carolinians who defend the battle flag and support its current position on the State House grounds. For these men and women, the flag is a source of pride and a reminder of ancestors who fought valiantly.
But whatever honorable meaning the battle flag may have to some, it is clear that the flag itself has been hijacked and is too often misappropriated by those who seek to spread hate, terror, and violence. A significant portion of our state sees the flag as a banner of hate and an expression that the majority devalues their place in society. I find that unacceptable. And for that reason, I believe the time has come to bring down the flag.
Let me be clear: I do not believe the Confederate Battle Flag had anything to do with the tragic murders in Charleston. I do not believe South Carolina sanctions or provides safe haven for racist thoughts or actions, and I am offended that some have alleged otherwise. I do not believe the overwhelming majority of our friends who cherish the battle flag are hate-mongers or racists; we would not consider them friends if they were. For I believe nearly all South Carolinians, regardless of skin color, are kind, decent, and peace-loving people.
I do believe, however, that we have been given an opportunity to reflect on who we are and who we want to be. The battle flag has become, to too many, a hurtful symbol of oppression and hate. That is not who we are. That is not who we want to be. I think it is time that we make that abundantly clear and retire the South Carolina Infantry Battle Flag from the State House grounds, the most public of public places, to an honorable location where we can study its history and the cause of those who carried it, as it was intended, in battle.