The Daily Gamecock

Rally held at capitol as General Assembly discusses flag

On Tuesday, as the South Carolina General Assembly begins discussions over the Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse grounds, the words "Take it down!" echoed around the capitol, as large crowds gathered to rally both for and against its removal.

The rally is the second to be held on Statehouse grounds since last week's racially-fueled massacre in Charleston that left nine black churchgoers dead, including Clementa Pinckney, a pastor and South Carolina state senator.

On Monday, in response to the shooting, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley held a press conference, during which she called upon the House and the Senate to remove the flag from its home by the Confederate soldier memorial.

"As Governor I have the authority to call [the General Assembly] back into session under extraordinary circumstances," Haley said in her press conference. "I have indicated ... that if they do not take measures to ensure this debate takes place this summer, I will use that authority for the purpose of the legislature removing the flag from the Statehouse grounds."

The alleged perpetrator of the killings, Dylann Roof, held white supremacist beliefs, according to his website, The Last Rhodesian.

If one thing is clear, however, it is that there are more than just two sides to this argument.

Charles Barrineau, a 2015 USC nursing graduate, has deep family ties to South Carolina and thinks that Governor Haley was right to call for the removal of the flag.

"My dad's side of the family has been around South Carolina since about 1730," Barrineau said. "I think that while the government is supposed to be representative of the people, there are often lapses. A lot of times it's simply because a person feels one way but legally or legislatively a governing body can't do anything about it, but this is not one of those cases. It's difficult to get the general population to agree with government on a lot of issues, but it seems this flag debate has a lot of support from all sides: the general population, state legislature and even the national government. When there is that much support to have the flag removed, you have to consider it."

"Unless there is no breeze you can't get a picture of the Statehouse from the street without the flag being in the forefront of the image," Barrineau said. "I've even heard that NCAA won't allow Columbia to host tournament games over the flag. I understand many people want it to remain because it is a symbol of our state's history but if that's the case put it in a museum. Our history is a vital aspect to our state, but it is unnecessary to have such a blatant reminder of an outdated institution that violated basic human rights be present 150 years after emancipation. The flag is a symbol of slavery and has no place still being flown above Statehouse grounds in this day and age."

Not all students feel this way, however.

One USC computer science student, who chose to remain anonymous, is more worried about the public opinion of the flag as a de facto state sanctioning of racist ideals rather than to respect and remember the South Carolinians who gave their lives defending their homes from a brutally violent invasion and occupation of the South by the Union during the Civil War.

"I can see why this issue would come to light considering the event in Charleston this week, but I think the attention to this flag is unrelated and unwarranted," the anonymous student said. "I will concede that most people and places who fly or display this flag do so with racist connotations. However, the Statehouse, the very seat of our government in South Carolina, is not one of these places. In my eyes, to make a connection between the shooting and the Statehouse flag is an over-generalization, convenient only to the media suggesting that our government system and society as a whole in South Carolina are deeply rooted in racist ideals."

Mahir Patel, a fourth-year economics and political science student, worries that the response from both Governor Haley and other prominent politicians is simply to appeal to voters' sentiments.

"My fear is that [Haley's press conference] is a simple political move," Patel said. "Now, politicians can say they supported the issue prior to any voting but when nothing changes, they can blame the inaction on 'legislative hurdles' and not actually have to alienate their base. The legislative session has to be extended prior to any debate on the repeal of the statute. But my main problem is that none of the politicians decided to stand up on the issue until the pictures from 'the last Rhodesian' (Dylann Roof's website) were blown up on the media. I just want people to know this isn't exactly the victory the media touts it as."

At the rally both anti-flag and pro-flag supporters came out in force.

Justin Young, an employee of the South Carolina Investment Commission, was bothered by the reactionary nature of the call for the flag's removal. "It's a shame that it took a tragedy like this for our leaders to take action," Young said.

Mike Anderson wore a grey Civil War-era soldier hat as he stood next to the Confederate soldier monument where the flag flies.

"I think that the Governor's been thrown into something where she had no other choice to do, in my opinion, what she's doing," Anderson said. "But, this is the wrong time to jump on the Confederate flag issue. First, I think it's the wrong flag — it should be the first, original Confederate flag flown here, not the battle flag. The battle flag was chosen as a hate symbol, unfortunately, and I understand that there are people that live with us and see that as a symbol of hate. I don't see it that way but I understand that they do, and for that reason I think that the flag should be changed, not brought down."

Tom Comerford, the former Clerk of Court for Lexington County, shared similar views.

"It's unfortunate that the Confederate battle flag has been used as a symbol with the skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan because it was originally used as a battle flag simply to distinguish between the Union and Confederacy," Comerford said. "I think it's a shame with what happened, and I'm very proud of the people in our state for reacting the way they have and coming together, but I think that Haley's reaction was a little emotional. I really believe that symbols are symbols, but we took it down from the top of the Statehouse fifteen years ago which was OK, but, what's next?"

Moses Udoh, a local physician, was taking pictures of the flag after the rally had started to disperse.

"I've been here for about 30 years, I went to school here at USC," Udoh said. "It's not the flag itself, but what people use the flag to do. The flag, to me, is used by different people for different reasons, but now it has become a symbol of hatred that people can wrap around themselves and do things to other people they find different. So, I think South Carolina is a good state, but for us to move forward it's time for this flag to come down." 

Lauren, a mother who chose to be identified by her first name only, was snapping pictures of her baby daughter clad in American Flag-patterned overalls as the toddler sat a few feet from the flagpole, next to a sign that read "Our lives begin to end the day we become SILENT about things that MATTER. -MLK JR #TakeItDown."

"I feel like the reason being this past week's events is sad that it had to come to that to take it down, but I just believe it belongs in a museum, not on the Statehouse grounds," Lauren said.

Leslie Pearson, who works for the University of South Carolina, does not like the idea of the flag flying while Senator Pinckney's body is being displayed inside the capitol, which is planned for tomorrow.

"As soon as I got off work, we decided we both wanted to come down here hoping that if we waited out a few hours, the State Legislature might have a few comments, because more than anything, I think it's really important that tomorrow when [Senator] Pinckney is laying in the Statehouse that he's not laying in a building that's in front of the Confederate flag. That, to me, is a complete disservice to his service to the state. So, we're hoping that by this evening this whole situation can be rectified, in order to honor him properly tomorrow."