(CN) – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Thursday signed a law authorizing the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds, and announced that both it, and the pole from which it flies. will be gone as of 10 a.m. Friday.
Once it is removed, the flag — a replica of the battle flag flown by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia — will be shipped to the Confederate Relic Room about a mile down the road from the statehouse.
It took virtually all day Wednesday and into the early morning hours of Thursday, for the South Carolina House to pass the bill that will officially bring down the Confederate flag that has waved over the statehouse grounds for more than 50 years.
Much of Wednesday was an exercise in frustration and folly, with several opponents of removing the Confederate flag proposing amendments they knew would go nowhere.
Among these were a proposal to replace the current flag with the “Bonnie Blue” banner that was flown by Citadel cadets as they bombarded Fort Sumter, to hold a public referendum on the issue (a proposal already rejected by the state Senate), to planting yellow jasmine – South Carolina’s state flower – at the site of the removed flagpole.
Removal of the flag was a long, long time coming, even before Wednesday’s extended session. It was first raised over the dome of the Capitol in Columbia, South Carolina to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. But it remained as a protest against the civil rights movement and the federal drive for desegregation in the 1960s.
In 2000, after much debate and pressure, the legislature approved a law, South Carolina’s Heritage Act, which approved moving the Confederate flag to a location next to a Civil War monument on the statehouse grounds, and forever froze all monuments of the past, in essence enshrining the confederacy and, in many cases, the state’s segregationist past.
The debate over whether or not to remove the flag was stirred by the murder three weeks ago of nine Bible study attendees at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The state Senate approved the removal of the Confederate flag on Monday, setting the stage for what was expected to be a long and rancorous debate in the state House.
While the proceedings were almost entirely cordial – one legislator opined that this disappointed reporters whom he said wanted ” so dadgum bad to see us start hitting each other in the heads with canes” – they were also often strange and sometimes mind-numbing.
It took only minutes for the first day’s first reference to be made to the Civil War as the “war of Northern Aggression,” and that was followed throughout the day by Henny Youngman-like references to marriage and talk of home cooking, duck hunting, hearing aids, and how in the days before many South Carolinians had indoor plumbing, it could awfully cold when one had to visit the outhouse during the night.
Leading the charge to preserved the Confederate flag’s place on the statehouse grounds was Rep. Michael Pitts, a Republican from Laurens County, S.C., who proposed literally dozens of amendments to the bill, each of which afforded him 20 minutes to address his colleagues.
“I grew up holding that flag in reverence because of the stories of my ancestors carrying that flag into battle,” Pitts explained, adding that he believed there were “some serious problems” with the Senate’s bill, which he called “inartfully drawn.”
Later, after several of his amendments were voted down by sizable margins, he lambasted his fellow legislators’ efforts to “hide history,” warning that when you do, “you have a tendency to repeat it, and the stupidity of it.”
By mid-afternoon the debate had slowed to a crawl and the legislature adjourned for lunch and, in a backroom, the House leadership held an impromptu meeting with the governor, who left about an hour later without commenting on what was said.
When Pitts was asked what Haley had said to the lawmakers, he claimed not to know, claiming he had taken his hearing aid out.
But for many, the pivotal moment in the debate came shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, when Rep. Jenny Horne, a Republican from Summerville, S.C. and a direct descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, rose to speak and tearfully told her colleagues enough was enough.
“I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds,” she said.
“And if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday. And for the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury, and I will not be a part of it,” she said.
With that, Horne paused.
“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage,” she continued. “Remove this flag and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age.”
Four hours later, the legislature heeded her call.
Moments later, at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Governor Haley issued a statement declaring, “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 on.”