Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Nikki Haley, South Carolina Governor, Calls for Removal of Confederate Battle Flag
New York Times
JUNE 22, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Nikki R. Haley called on Monday for South Carolina to do what just a week ago seemed politically impossible — remove the Confederate battle flag from its perch in front of the State House building here. She argued that a symbol long revered by many Southerners was for some, after the church massacre in Charleston, a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past.”

“The events of this week call upon us to look at this in a different way,” said Ms. Haley, an Indian-American, who is the first member of an ethnic minority to serve as governor of the state as well as the first woman.

She spoke at an afternoon news conference, surrounded by Democratic and Republican lawmakers including both of the state’s United States senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, an African-American. “Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.”

It was a dramatic turnabout for Ms. Haley, a second-term governor who over her five years in the job has displayed little interest in addressing the intensely divisive issue of the flag. But her new position demonstrated the powerful shock that last Wednesday’s killings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church have delivered to the political status quo, mobilizing leaders at the highest levels.

On Monday, the White House announced that President Obama will travel to Charleston on Friday and deliver the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the slain pastor of the Emanuel Church and a state senator. The political aftershocks from the shootings were also felt in Mississippi, where the House speaker, a Republican, unexpectedly declared in a statement Monday night that the Mississippi state flag, which includes the Confederate banner, “has become a point of offense that needs to be removed.”

Interviews suggested that Ms. Haley’s rapidly evolving position on the flag was shaped by several factors: the horror of seeing the unsmiling gunman posing with it in photos; her conversations with congregants at the church; intensifying pressure from South Carolina business leaders to remove a controversial vestige of the state’s past; and calls from leaders of her own party, including its leading presidential contenders, urging her to take it down once and for all.

The result on Monday was a moment of political and racial drama, and a signature moment for Ms. Haley, who blended the traditional values of the South — faith, family, empathy — into a powerful call for taking down the flag as a gesture of unity, healing and renewal.

She acknowledged that some South Carolinians respect and revere the flag not as a racist symbol but as “a way to honor ancestors.” However, she added, the flag, “while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”

The suspect in the Wednesday massacre, a 21-year-old itinerant landscaper named Dylann Roof, had posed for numerous photos with the Confederate battle flag. In the aftermath of the shootings, protesters on the streets and on social media demanded that the flag — which was unfurled over the State House in 1962, largely as a symbol of defiance of efforts to expand the civil rights of black Americans — finally be removed.

“Ms. Haley,” declared one prominent sign outside the church, where mourners had piled thousands of flowers. “Tear down that flag!”

The sentiment, over the years, was held by African-Americans and most liberal South Carolinians.

The N.A.A.C.P. declared an “economic boycott” of the state in 1999 that remains in effect. But some white Southern voters consider the flag to be a symbol of the sacrifice of their Civil War ancestors, not of racism. As a rule, white Southerners tend to vote Republican, and over the years they have helped defeat Republicans who have tried to diminish the flag’s prominence.

In the days since the shooting, the Republican presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida have issued vague or equivocal statements, perhaps wary of losing support in the crucial South Carolina primary. (Mr. Bush, who ordered the removal of the flag from the Florida statehouse while governor, said he was confident that South Carolina would “do the right thing,” while Mr. Rubio said the state would “make the right choice for the people of South Carolina.”)

But inside the governor’s office, Ms. Haley’s phone line lit up with messages from national Republican officials offering words of condolence, among them Mr. Bush, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Mitt Romney, all current, likely or former candidates for president, and Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. In some cases, there was also something else: subtle encouragement to dispatch the flag.

Mr. Romney, a financial backer of Ms. Haley’s campaigns, was explicit, according to an adviser: The flag, he believed, had to come down, a message he delivered Saturday morning on Twitter to an extraordinary response. Thousands of people, including Mr. Obama, retweeted the message, many of them heralding his stand.

Mr. Romney was taken aback by the reaction and told an aide he was glad he had spoken out. Ms. Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party, had her own political future to consider. The flag would inevitably complicate her selection as a cabinet member or even vice-presidential nominee, if she wanted either.

Over the weekend, Ms. Haley and her staff reached out to top officials like Representative James E. Clyburn, the ranking African-American member of Congress, sounding them out on the issue, and on Monday, she summoned officials to her office and told them of her decision: It was time for the Confederate flag to stop flying over the historic building’s grounds. Every leading South Carolina politician — stunned by the massacre, moved by the church’s demonstration of grace and fearful of the repercussions from inaction — agreed.

“If you want to credit anybody here, credit the families of the victims and the church members who displayed Christianity and love,” Mr. Graham said. “The politicians followed their moral authority.”

The repercussions from the church attack went beyond politics. Walmart said Monday that it would remove all Confederate battle flag merchandise from its stores.

Some opposition remains within the legislature. State Senator Lee Bright, a conservative lawmaker from Spartanburg, said it was unfortunate that the flag issue was being taken up in the midst of so much grief. He said supports the flag as a symbol of the state’s history.

“There are those of us who have ancestors that fought and spilled blood on the side of the South when they were fighting for states’ rights, and we don’t want our ancestors relegated to the ash heaps of history,” he said. “Through the years, the heroes of the South have been slandered, maligned and misrepresented, and this is a further activity in that.”

However, a leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group in South Carolina, while signaling his disappointment in the governor’s recommendation, said the organization — which prominently features the battle flag at the State House on its website — said he expected his group’s members would go along with whatever decision was made.

“With the winds that started blowing last week, I figured it would just be a matter of time,” said Ken Thrasher, the lieutenant commander of the group’s South Carolina division. “Whatever the legislature decides to do, we will accept it graciously.”

Mr. Thrasher said he and others in his organization were “saddened, but we’re going to move forward.”

“We’re not a racist group,” he added.

Cornell William Brooks, president and chief executive of the national N.A.A.C.P., who hails from South Carolina, said Monday that the governor “had done what was needed. She, as a governor of a Southern state, has done a very Southern thing,” he said. “And here’s what I mean: The South is known for its hospitality, and what could be more hospitable than to be inclusive? Bringing that flag down is a symbol to the rest of the country. It’s a symbol that South Carolina stands with inclusiveness.”

The fate of the recommendation in the Republican-dominated General Assembly is far from certain. Some senior Republicans in the state were concerned about the scope of the eventual bill. And others were frustrated that Mr. Scott, the only black Republican in the United States Senate and a popular figure among conservatives, did not speak at the news conference.

The governor made her announcement nearly 15 years after a delicate compromise took effect in South Carolina: The American and state flags remained above the State House, but the Confederate battle flag was moved to a position in front of the building. In a reflection of the sensitivity of the debate, the agreement was detailed — it called, for instance, for the battle flag to be flown 30 feet in the air from a flagpole set 10 feet from the base of the Confederate Soldier Monument — and it sharply restricted when war memorials across the state could be “relocated, removed, disturbed or altered.”

The agreement also required that any changes be subject to two-thirds votes in each chamber of the legislature.

On Monday, a number of state legislators, including some Republicans, said the two-thirds requirement may not be legally binding. But Ms. Haley said she would like the legislature to act soon. State Senator Tom Davis, a Republican who supports the proposal, said there were a number of potential procedural complications.

The General Assembly is currently in session by virtue of a “sine die” resolution that allows lawmakers to take up specifically enumerated issues. To address the flag issue, Mr. Davis said, the resolution would have to be amended — and that, he said, would take a two-thirds vote in each house.

As a candidate in 2010, Ms. Haley said the issue had been “resolved to the best of its ability” by the compromise a decade earlier. As a candidate in 2014, she said that when she was trying to recruit business to the state, “not a single C.E.O.” had mentioned the flag as a potential sticking point.

On Monday, Ms. Haley mentioned her ethnicity, and that of Mr. Scott — who also called for the removal of the flag in a statement Monday — as part of an argument that the state had changed for the better.

Shortly after the governor’s announcement, drivers honked their horns as they drove past the State House, in apparent support of her decision.

Jayne Williams stood beside the Confederate flag, with small American flags assembled in tiny flower pots — one for each of the Emanuel victims. She held a sign that said, #Its ComingDown.

Frances Robles reported from Columbia, Richard Fausset from Charleston, S.C., and Michael Barbaro from New York. Reporting was contributed by Richard Pérez-Peña from New York, Alan Blinder from Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Jonathan Martin and Ashley Parker from Washington.

Gov. Calls for Removal of Confederate Flag

By Jeremy Borden, Mark Berman and Todd C. Frankel
June 22 at 9:02 PM  

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Monday for the removal of the Confederate flag flying on the state capitol grounds, acknowledging that a symbol deeply embedded in state history is today widely seen more as a racist relic than as a proud heirloom.

In urging state legislators to remove the flag from the sky above the birthplace of the Confederacy, Haley joined a chorus of leaders from across the political spectrum and around the country that has grown rapidly in the days since a white gunman killed nine black people at a church in Charleston.

“Some divisions are bigger than a flag,” Haley (R) said during a news conference where she was joined by most of the state’s congressional delegation, including Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham and Tim Scott. “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 something we cannot stand.”

The White House announced Monday that President Obama will travel to Charleston on Friday to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was among the nine parishioners shot dead last Wednesday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by alleged gunman Dylann Roof. Vice President Biden is also expected to attend.

Obama addressed the nation’s continuing struggle with racism during a podcast interview Monday with comedian Marc Maron, saying that the history of slavery “casts a long shadow” in the United States, even if racial epithets are no longer part of decent conversation.

“It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public,” Obama said. “That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

In Columbia, the Confederate flag emerged as a flash point after the killings, and demands for its removal continued to mount after authorities confirmed that a racist online manifesto littered with references to the Confederacy and images of the Confederate flag belonged to Roof. Even as state officials lowered the U.S. flag and the state’s palmetto flag atop the capitol dome to half-staff in honor of the victims, the Stars and Bars remained at full height.

For now, the rebel flag flies atop a 30-foot pole at a monument to Confederate soldiers on the capitol’s north lawn. For some in South Carolina, the flag is a tribute to the state’s unique place as the first to secede from the Union and as home during the Civil War to some of the Confederacy’s most fervent advocates. The flag was moved to that pole in 2000 by state lawmakers as a compromise after they faced opposition, led by the NAACP, to what had been the flag’s home atop the capitol dome since 1962.

As recently as last year, Haley dismissed calls to move the flag, saying she had not heard complaints from business leaders.

Although she has reversed her position, removing the flag still requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the state legislature. Lawmakers could debate the proposal as a black cloth still drapes the Senate desk once occupied by Pinckney, who had been elected to represent his Charleston district.

Haley said she will use her authority as governor to call a special session if lawmakers don’t handle the issue in the coming weeks.

State Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat and the House minority leader, said Republican leadership has assured him that lawmakers will vote on the flag. But he also expects some opposition. “I can tell you that it will be interesting,” he said.

One state senator described the calls for the flag’s removal as a “Stalinistic purge of our history.” Lee Bright, a Republican from one of the most conservative parts of the state, accused “the politically correct crowd” of seizing an opportunity.

“One bad person misusing a symbol doesn’t mean the symbol is bad,” Bright said.

Hundreds marched in South Carolina over the weekend to protest the Confederate flag’s placement. Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina, called for the flag’s removal.

Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. employer, said Monday evening that it would remove items bearing the Confederate flag from its stores and stop selling them online.

“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer,” Brian Nick, a spokesman for the company, wrote in an e-mailed statement. “We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our web site.” Sears Holdings made a similar announcement, Reuters reported.

It has quickly become clear that a growing number of people view the Confederate flag as a “symbol of hatred,” as Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley called it Monday when he said the flag should be moved to a museum. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for the flag’s removal, as did Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said the flag should be taken down, reiterating a stance he took as a candidate in the 2008 race.Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), his running mate in 2012, said Monday through a spokesman that he agreed.

Several GOP presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said the issue should be left up to South Carolinians. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) echoed these sentiments, saying over the weekend that he saw “both sides” of the debate.

After Haley’s announcement, Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton tweeted that the governor was right to call for the flag’s removal, saying it was long overdue. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D), also a presidential candidate, called for the flag to be taken down.

Even before the Charleston shooting, the flag was a divisive racial issue in South Carolina. A 2014 poll for the State newspaper in Columbia found that 61 percent of state residents said the flag should remain where it is. A majority of white people said it should stay, but most black people said it should go.

In Mississippi, the only state to have the Confederate emblem in its state flag, the top Republican in the state House of Representatives said Monday night that it should consider changing the flag.

“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said in a statement. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”

While South Carolina politics were focused on the flag Monday, new details emerged about the rocky marriage of Roof’s father and stepmother, illustrating a tumultuous period for the now 21-year-old man.

In 2008, when Roof was 14, his stepmother, Paige Hastings, filed for divorce from his father, Bennett Roof. She accused her husband of being controlling and physically abusive, according to court records.

The family had just moved back to South Carolina after three years in Florida. Bennett Roof’s small construction company had fallen on hard times. And now, the marriage of 10 years was over. Around the same time, Dylann Roof dropped out of the ninth grade.

Court filings include photos of bruises and scrapes Hastings says she got when she was beaten by Bennett Roof. “I was so scared of him that I knew I had to get out of this violent situation,” she wrote in court papers.

The couple had one child together, a girl named Morgan, and were raising two children — Dylann and his older sister, Amber Roof — from Bennett Roof’s previous marriage. The court records did not shed light on Dylann and Amber Roof’s relationship with their biological mother.

Hastings said she was the primary caregiver for the children.

“I raised his kids from a very young age, took them to all of their activities and Benn’s kids have spent almost every weekend with me,” she wrote in a February 2009 affidavit. “Benn travels a great deal, usually 4 days a week, so I would always care for and raise his kids.”

A friend wrote in a letter that Hastings was involved in Dylann’s life, even after the couple separated in 2008. “She always made sure Dylann was able to visit his father, even taking him to and from his house almost every weekend. She has been very active in all of the children’s lives for the past 10 years caring for them as her own,” the friend wrote.

Another friend wrote that Hastings loved Dylann “unconditionally as her own.”

Berman and Frankel reported from Washington.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.

Todd C. Frankel is a reporter covering people and policy. You can follow him on Twitter: @tcfrankel.

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