South Carolina House Votes to Remove Flag From Statehouse Dome

Thursday, May 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Columbia, S.C. (AP) -- On the day that South Carolina celebrated its first official Confederate Memorial Day, the House voted 63-56 Wednesday to remove the Confederate flag from atop the Capitol dome.

Only three black legislators voted for the Senate-passed compromise that on July 1 removes the flag from the dome and legislative chambers and flies a similar one at a monument to Confederate soldiers on Statehouse grounds.

In a passionate plea before the vote, Republican Speaker David Wilkins pounded the lectern and urged lawmakers to find common ground.

"I'm asking every one of you to reach deep and think about what's in the best interests of the state you love so much," said Wilkins, a longtime flag supporter who backed the compromise.

After a procedural final vote Thursday, the bill will be sent back to the Democrat-controlled Senate, which has to agree on minor House changes.

"With tonight's vote, we are one giant step closer to ending the flag debate," said Democrat Gov. Jim Hodges, who has said he will sign any bill that removes the flag from the dome.

But black House members and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is urging tourists to boycott the state, say the flag would be too visible at the monument, which is at one of Columbia's busiest intersections. Black senators, however, supported the bill.

"Unfortunately it's not over," said House Minority Leader Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who is black. "It's over for me, but I don't think it's over for the state."

The NAACP has said it will continue the boycott if the flag goes to the monument.

The vote was emotional for many lawmakers.

"Those who voted for the bill were doing that as statesmen and as people that wanted to resolve the issue," said House Majority Rick Quinn, a Republican flag supporter who cried after casting his vote for the compromise.

The Republican-controlled House made few changes to the Senate bill. It set July 1 for the flag to come down, increased the height of the flag pole at the monument from 20 feet to 30 feet, added lighting and a fence and specified the flag size as a 52-inch by 52-inch square.

Early Wednesday, the Confederate monument was vandalized with red spray paint that said, "take it down, don't put it here."

As lawmakers debated, protesters burned the Confederate and Nazi flags on the Statehouse lawn. The Confederate flag, like the Nazi emblem, "represents crimes against humanity," said Kevin Gray of the Harriet Tubman Read Street Freedom House Project in Columbia.

The protesters shouted "no compromise." But the Confederate flag did not immediately ignite, and its supporters chanted back "it won't burn."

The Confederate flag was raised above the Statehouse in 1962 to commemorate the Civil War centennial, though critics suggest it also was in defiance of the civil rights movement. Flag supporters say it is an important part of the state's heritage. Opponents say it represents slavery and hatred.