Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The Confederate battle flag will soon come down from the grounds of the South Carolina capitol, after a historic vote by the South Carolina House early Thursday morning gave final legislative approval to removing the banner.
Just after 1 a.m., lawmakers voted 94-20 to okay the bill on a third reading after almost 15 hours of contentious debate.
See the full Roll Call vote further down in this article.
Governor Nikki Haley will sign the bill at 4 p.m. Thursday in the lobby of the capitol building. Chaney Adams, a spokesperson for the governor, said the flag will be removed in a ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday.
"Today, as the Senate did before them, the House of Representatives has served the State of South Carolina and her people with great dignity," Haley said in a statement shortly after the vote. "I'm grateful for their service and their compassion. It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state."
Once it's down, it will be placed at the Confederate Relic Room, a museum just down the road from the State House.
"We stand here on this historic moment giving thanks to all those people that crossed party lines that recognized South Carolina needed to be in a better place and we believe we are in that better place," said Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat from Columbia.
The decision paves the way for the end of a 53-year-long term of some version of the flag flying at the capitol. Back in 1962, a Confederate naval flag was placed on the dome of the capitol. After decades of calls by civil rights groups for the banner to be taken down, a compromised was reached in 2000 to place the Confederate battle flag at its current location at the Confederate Soldier's monument.
Video: House votes to take down Confederate flag:
While some groups still were upset at where the flag remained, there was little political will to move the banner. Those who drafter the plan had also made removing it difficult by requiring a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers to bring it down.
That all changed on June 17 of this year, when nine people were murdered inside Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Police said the attack was racially motivated, and pictures that surfaced online showed the alleged killer posing with the Confederate flag. That led some to question again why that banner, which many consider a symbol of hate, was still flying at the seat of power for the state.
On June 22, Governor Haley and other top state leaders called for the legislature, which had sole authority to remove the flag, to hold a special session to bring down the banner.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill by a 36-3 vote to move the flag to the Relic Room, setting up Wednesday's showdown in the House.
Rep. Mike Pitts of Laurens vowed to fight the bill when it came to his chamber, and he made good on his promise: he and his fellow flag supporters proposed over 60 amendments during debate.
Of those suggestions, the main one that proved to be a sticking point was a plan introduced by Rep. Rick Quinn of Lexington County that asked for a budget for the display of the flag at the Relic Room. Attempts to table the amendment failed.
That flummoxed flag opponents, who were told that the Senate would reject any bill that came back to them with amendments, and at the very least, would delay a final resolution on the matter until next week. If the measure went back to the Senate, and those lawmakers rejected the change, a conference committee would have been created to work out the differences.
As a possible solution to resolve the stalemate, Rep. Russell Ott, a Democrat from Calhoun County, introduced a resolution that contained language similar to the amendment, but would not require the Senate's approval as an amendment would. A majority of lawmakers refused to consider his idea until after the final vote, however, but the proposal gave flag opponents an argument to combat Quinn's amendment.
After hours of a debate that went in circles, and a series of lawmakers explaining--sometimes angrily--how the flag was personally offensive to them, Quinn relented, and allowed his amendment to be tabled. After one final hiccup involving a plan by Pitts to fly the South Carolina state flag at the monument, lawmakers had an up or down vote on the flag.
Earlier in the day, flag supporters nearly garnered enough support to put up an alternative banner known as the South Carolina Infantry Regiment flag on the flagpole at the monument. That banner that strongly resembles the current South Carolina State flag, featuring a crescent moon on the side, a Palmetto tree in the center, and a wreath around the tree, all on a field of blue.
The measure fell only a few votes short of passing.
Rep. Eric Bedingfield of Greenville County, one of the supporters of the amendment, said he believed that his idea would satisfy people who sought for the current flag to come down and those who wanted their heritage preserved.
"We are being respectful, we are honoring the fact that somebody abducted a symbol of heritage," Bedingfield said. "We've lost lives in Charleston related to this who I want to be the utmost respectful t,o and we've given you an opportunity to allow those who want to have respect for their heritage to have it. You can not erase history."
Bedingfield and the other supporters said it would be "grace" if the other side agreed to their amendment.
But that viewpoint was challenged emotionally and passionately by Rep. Jenny Horne of Dorchester County, who became frustrated by the arguments made by the pro-flag side.
"If we amend this bill we are telling the people of Charleston we don't care about you," she said. "We do not care that someone used this symbol of hate to slay 8 [sic] innocent people who were worshiping their God."
Horne also said she was aware of a economic development prospect in Dorchester County that would have been in jeopardy if the legislature failed to take down the flag.
"i have heard enough about heritage," Horne said. "I have a heritage. I am a lifelong South Carolinian. I am a descendant of Jefferson Davis (the President of the Confederacy) okay? But that does not matter. It's not about Jenny Horne. it's about the people of South Carolina who have demanded that this symbol of hate come off of the State House grounds."
Her comments were echoed by Rep. Joe Neal of Columbia, who said, "soldiers dead more than 150 years are receiving more grace from the South Carolina House than families of the Emanuel AME victims."
Bedingfield and Pitts also proposed creating a non-binding, public vote the flag that would take place in November of 2016. That plan also didn't pass.
Other proposed amendments would have created a display case for the Confederate flag that would have been in front of the monument at the capitol, one to remove all monuments, and even one that would have required yellow jessamine flowers to be planted near the monument.
Each of those was overwhelmingly rejected fellow lawmakers.
Previous Coverage:Senate Approves Confederate Flag Bill
Some of the other proposals were bizarre. One called for the U.S. flag to fly upside down on the dome of the capitol; another would have put a white flag of defeat on the pole at the State House, to represent what the sponsor defined as the "flag of the South Carolina Republican Party."
To complicate matters, in the days prior to the debate, lawmakers were also receiving intense outside pressure on the issue. State. Rep. Grady Brown, a Democrat from Lee County, said he'd gotten letters and calls from people who said they wouldn't vote for him if approved removing the banner.
"If this has to be my sayonara, then so be it," Brown said. "There comes a time in life when you have to say you've got to do what's right."
Mark Keel, the chief of South Carolina's State Law Enforcement Division, said Wednesday they're investigating death threats made to lawmakers on both sides of the issue. Keel promised to arrest and prosecute those responsible.