South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday said the Confederate flag should be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol, taking a stand on an emotional issue that has sparked sharp debates in the state, and that is a reversal from her own past stance.
“Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state, and without ill will, to say it's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds," Haley said at a press conference in Columbia, S.C., on Monday. “One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come."
The Republican governor, who was flanked by GOP South Carolina Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, said that citizens will be free to fly the flag on their private properties and that she respects people who see it as an emblem of the state's history and a way to remember ancestors — not a symbol of hate.
“For good and for bad, whether it is on the statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina," she said. “But this is a moment where we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state."
Last week's mass shooting in Charleston, S.C. — where nine black people were killed inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a white gunman in what investigators are treating as a hate crime — has reignited a debate over the Confederate flag, which flies atop a 30-foot flagpole outside the state Capitol building in Columbia.
“The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war," Haley said. “We have an opportunity to show not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening."
The governor hopes that by removing a symbol that divides citizens of South Carolina, the state can “move forward in harmony."
“And we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in heaven," she said.
Morris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in conversation with Yahoo global news anchor Katie Couric, said Haley spoke well in trying to reach everyone in her state, but that she is late to the issue.
“She could not have gotten elected, I'm sure, had she taken this position when she was running for office," Dees said, “because of the racism that honestly exists in South Carolina."
Graham's appearance marks a pivot for the senator who on Friday said he would welcome revisiting the state's decision to display the flag outside the Capitol, but for now, “it works here."
“You could probably visit other places in the country near some symbol that doesn't quite strike you right," Graham said.
He said the debate over the flag in the wake of the shootings misses the point: The gunman — not the flag — is to blame.
“We're not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere," Graham said. “It's not the book, it's not the movie, it's not the flags — it's him."