South Carolina's most prominent political leaders say it's time for their state to stop flying the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of its State House. Gov. Nikki Haley made their position clear Monday afternoon, speaking alongside Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Tim Scott and others.
Calls for moving the Confederate battle flag have grown since the shooting of nine black church members in Charleston last week. After speaking about the efforts to cope with that tragedy, Haley said that she has seen "the heart and soul" of South Carolina.
Recalling the flag's status for some South Carolinians as a symbol of history and heritage, Haley said, "That is not hate; nor is it racism."
"But the State House is different," she added, before saying that she and the other bipartisan leaders had come together.
"Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds," Haley said.
At that point, Haley paused as many in the room loudly cheered and applauded. She then added, "150 years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come."
Update at 4:20 p.m. ET: Haley Issues Call To Remove Flag
As we originally reported, NPR's Juana Summers confirmed that this afternoon's news conference would announce an important development in the debate over the S.C. flag display. We've updated and rewritten the top of this post to reflect the news from the event.
Our post continues:
Since it came down from atop South Carolina's State House in 2000, the Confederate battle flag has been in a prominent spot outside the General Assembly, next to the state's Confederate Soldier Monument. Its removal would require an action by state lawmakers.
Today, the governor said she wants the Legislature to vote on removing the flag — and that she hopes to have it taken down before the July 4 holiday. If the issue isn't dealt with, she said, she would call a special session.
Haley also spoke of efforts to find common ground after the recent deadly shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in North Charleston. The governor noted that the state had passed body-camera legislation, and that it had avoided rioting and violence.
"We have changed through the times, and we will continue to do so," she said.
But the governor also acknowledged, "On matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history."
Haley then began to talk of the Confederate flag – and of the suspect in last week's shooting who displayed it in several photos. She said that he would not succeed in dividing the state, or in igniting a race war.
Toward the end of her remarks, Haley said:
"We know that bringing down the Confederate flag will not bring back the nine kind souls taken from us, nor rid us of the hate and bigotry that drove a monster through the doors of Mother Emanuel that night. Some divisions are bigger than a flag. The evil we saw last Wednesday comes from a place much deeper, much darker.
"But we are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is a something we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds – it is, after all, a Capitol that belongs to all of us."
According to local TV WIS News, "South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas has already called for "swift resolution" on the Confederate flag issue."
Earlier Monday, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey spoke at a bipartisan news conference held by leaders who say it's time for the controversial flag to come down from its place on the Statehouse grounds.
"It's a historical flag, a piece of history, and it belongs in a history museum," Riley said. He added that the flag had been "appropriated as a symbol of hate" years ago.
Just after noon today, Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina, also called for the flag's removal. The university's main campus is a block from the State House grounds.
Those calls echo sentiments that have long been held by the NAACP — and that were renewed on Friday, when NAACP President Cornell Brooks told a crowd in Charleston:
"When we see that symbol lifted up as an emblem of hate, as a tool of hate, as an inspiration for hate, as an inspiration for violence — that symbol has to come down, that symbol must be removed from our state capitol."
The debate over the flag was reignited after images of the chief suspect in the Charleston killings, Dylann Roof, was shown to have been displaying an image of the Confederate flag on his car. Roof, 21, is a native of the Columbia area.
The Confederate flag also figures prominently in photos of Roof that surfaced over the weekend, on a website titled The Last Rhodesian, as Scott reported for the Two-Way.
Funeral services for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel A.M.E. Church who was slain last week, will be held on Friday; President Obama will deliver the eulogy, a White House official tells NPR's Tamara Keith.