(CN) – Members of the South Carolina General Assembly voted 103-10 to begin debate on a proposal to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds.
The vote came a day after Gov. Nikki Haley’s described the flag as the divisive emblem, particularly in the aftermath of the Charleston church massacre.
As it transpired, hundreds of protestors continued to gather in stifling heat outside the statehouse, many of them chanting, “It’s time for it to go.”
In the meantime, a re-evaluation of Confederate flag’s place in the Southern and the national psyche has taken hold, items bearing it disappearing from store shelves and officials across the South calling for its removal from everythng from license plates to state banners.
On Tuesday morning, two of the nation’s largest retailers, Wal-Mart and Sears, announced they will remove all Confederate flag merchandise from their stores.
“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick.
“We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment – whether in our stores or on website,” Nick said.
Sears Holdings Corporation, which owns both Sears and Kmart, said it will remove Confederate flag merchandise sold by third-party vendors online.
Tuesday afternoon, that were joined by EBay, which banned the sale of Confederate flags and simialrly themed merchandise on its website.
If there was any question about an economic component to the debate over the flag, it was dispelled shortly after the EBay announcement when the South Carolina Department of Commerce sent out a mass email with a link to Haley’s speach.
Addressed to “Dear Friends of South Carolina,” the accompanying letter it describes the governor’s press conference as “demonstration of unity and leadership” that was not only a milestone, but “a hallmark of what it means to be Team South Carolina.”
“By moving as one – as Team South Carolina – we have worked to boost the eocnomy, expand business and compete in an ever-changing, global environment,” the letter said. “We see a forward-thinking state committed to a future of prosperity.”
That message already appears to have traction, as NASCAR has also cast its lot with those calling for the flag to be removed.
“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impact,” NASCAR officials said in a statement. “NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina Governor Nikki hapey took on the Confederate flag on Monday.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Tuesday that he wants to phase out a state-sponsored license plate featuring an image of the Confederate flag, describing the it as “unnecessarily divisive and hurtful.”
McAuliffe said not only will Virginia stop selling the plates, but it will replace those that are already on the road.
Virginia will continued to issue a specialty plate honoring the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but new versions of that plate will no longer feature the organization’s logo, which incorporates the flag.
McAuliffe’s statement’s come in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week that Texas may reject a specialized license plate featuring the Confederate flag.
In Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn on Monday called for a change to the state flag, removing the Confederate flag included in its design.
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Gunn said in a statement.
“As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
Even if the South Carolina General Assembly voted on Tuesday to at least consider a change to the South Carolina Heritage Act, the state law that prohibits the removal of the flag, it will still be some time before that actually happens, if it does all.
The legislature’s session has already ended for the year. This week’s activity is supposed to be purely budget related.
Republican state Rep. Doug Brannon said he plans to introduce a bill to remove the flag, but the earliest he can do so under longstanding General Assembly rules is December.
Then, it will take a two-thirds supermajority in both the General Assembly and state Senate under the terms of the 2000 deal that moved the flag from the statehouse dome to its current location next to a monument to Confederate soldiers.
Among those vowing to keep the pressure on is the NAACP, which issued a statement Tuesday saying it expects nothing less than a unanimous vote in favor of removing the flag.
“Simply calling for the flag’s removal is not enough. While a toothless vote is legislatively necessary, we believe that a unanimous vote is morally required,” the statement said.
The organization also had a warning for lawmakers.
“If South Carolina refuses to take down the flag, the NAACP will only intensify its economic, political and moral pressure on the state to remove the same emblem of exclusion that the church shooter used as motivation for his crime,” the statement said.
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