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Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Confederate flag is on its way out.

The South Carolina Senate voted 37-3 today to remove the flag from the statehouse grounds, where it has flown in its current location for 15 years. The vote now moves to the state’s House of Representatives, and if it passes there, the bill will go to Republican governor Nikki Haley for her signature. She has affirmed that she will sign it.

In the aftermath of the racially motivated Charleston massacre at “Mother Emanuel” on June 17, photographs of shooter Dylann Roof circulated widely, depicting him draped in the Confederate flag and displaying emblems of segregationist governments. Haley announced on June 22 that she wanted the flag to come down, after years of pressure from the business community and speaking to constituents horrified by the shooting.

The Confederate flag, which became a token of Southern heritage after World War II, was removed from the dome of the South Carolina Statehouse in 2000 after a compromise that ended years of debate.

In the past few weeks, there has been a renewed call to remove the flag from public grounds entirely and put it in a museum, and a symbol that had long been problematic (but, at least for many voters, an anemic issue) became a linchpin for issues of social progress and racism.

Residents in Mississippi had voted in the past to keep the emblem on state flags as recently as 2001. Haley herself had said it was a non-issue when asked about it during campaign season.

Yet with so much acrimony surrounding the flag — against a backdrop of discussions of endemic racism and inequality — many lawmakers quickly affirmed their support for removing it from the state Capitol completely, where it has been since 1962.

This week, the South Carolina Senate rejected an amendment to the proposal that would allow voters to decide whether the flag would stay, as well as an amendment that would fly the flag on Confederate Memorial Day, which South Carolina celebrates every May 10.

Other proposals entertained by South Carolina Republicans included using alternate Confederate flags, ones that aren’t as recognizable as the Confederate Battle Flag, as the “Stars and Bars” is officially known. But many, including Democrats, business leaders, and Haley, agree that such a halfhearted measure wouldn’t solve anything.

Some Republicans don’t want to see the long history of the flag be reduced to one event.

“I’m more against taking it down in this environment than any other time just because I believe we’re placing the blame of what one deranged lunatic did on the people that hold their Southern heritage high,” said State Sen. Lee Bright, a Republican, to the Associated Press.

Activists calling for the removal of the flag — and some in support of it — circled the statehouse as the vote took place. The vote is expected to continue in the Senate Tuesday; if the bill passes, the flag could come down as soon as Thursday.

Photo: The Confederate flag, as it stands in South Carolina’s Capitol in Columbia. Jimmy Emerson DVM/Flickr

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