CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) — Three words will ring in South Carolina state lawmakers’ ears when they reconvene on Tuesday: “Take it down.”
Key conservatives — from Mitt Romney to Jeb Bush to the state’s two U.S. senators and its governor, Nikki Haley — are calling for the traditionally red state to yank the Confederate battle flag that flies on Capital property off its pole and lock it into a museum display case.
After the racist massacre last week of nine black worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at the hands of white gunman, Dylann Roof, 21, any significant political support for keeping the Civil War relic appears to have eroded.
And at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, two hours before legislators meet, protesters will gather in front of the State House, as they did over the weekend, to chant that phrase at them again: “Take it down; take it down.”
Haley will ask lawmakers to heed the call.
United they stand
The cry has united the ranks of NAACP leaders with conservative white Republicans, all disgusted by the killings, and newly sensitized to the insult that the battle flag from the final days of slavery carries for blacks — and many other — Americans.
“Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will to say it is time to remove the flag from our Capitol grounds,” Republican Gov. Haley said on Monday.
“The time has come for the General Assembly to do what it ought to have done a long time ago, which is to remove this symbol of division and even of terrorism to some,” said NAACP leader Rev. Nelson B. Rivers.
He said the flag symbolizes the worst of South Carolina’s history. Removing it would honor the people killed at Emanuel AME.
South Carolina’s movement to remove the flag made waves in other parts of the country on Monday. Mississippi’s Republican state House Speaker Philip Gunn said that the Confederate flag, which comprises part of that state’s flag, “has become a point of offense that needs to be removed.”
And Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, will remove all Confederate flag merchandise from its stores.
Stubborn divisive symbol
The dilemma of what to do with the Confederate battle flag — a symbol of racism to many and of Southern heritage to others — has flustered lawmakers for years.
It flew over the Confederate states for only four years, during the American Civil War, the only bid by a part of the nation to tear the Union apart. But it has hung on for 150 years in Southern states, and has been incorporated into some state flags.
Racist hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists, have appropriated the Confederate battle flag in defiance of the civil rights of African-Americans.
As part of a compromise in 2000, South Carolina lawmakers agreed to remove the Confederate flag from the top of the Capitol dome, where it previously flew, and place it across the street while also adding a monument to African-Americans. But the legislation mandated that only a supermajority of the legislature could change that setup going forward.
Republican state Rep. Doug Brannon has already committed to introducing a bill to remove the flag when the Legislature convenes in January. “I apologize to the people of South Carolina,” he said. “I’ve been in the House for five years. I should have introduced this bill five years ago.”
If legislators fail to act on its removal Tuesday, Haley will call for them to reconvene.
In the meantime, investigators have come across a website with photos of Roof holding the Confederate flag and burning and spitting on the American flag.
The site, which is registered to Roof but otherwise does not mention his name, features a 2,000-word racist manifesto that details the writer’s philosophy of white superiority.
“I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country,” the author wrote.
Roof said he was trying to start a race war with his killings. That seems to have backfired. During his court hearing on Friday, loved ones of his victims forgave him through their sobs and told him they were praying for his soul.
Their grief has triggered a national outpouring of sympathy.
On Sunday at the church, at a service to memorialize the nine who were killed, a chair sat empty with a black cloak draped over it. It’s where the Rev. Clementa Pinckney would have been sitting, had the pastor and eight other worshippers not been shot down as they studied the Bible.
President Barack Obama will travel to Charleston on Friday for Pinckney’s funeral, as will Vice President Joe Biden.
Obama will deliver the eulogy at the funeral for Pinckney, who was also a state senator.