(CN) – The South Carolina Senate voted Monday to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state house, after hours of speeches on both sides of the issue.
The 37-3 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate suggests its passage on a third and final reading in the chamber is a virtual certainty. The focus will now switch to the South Carolina House of Representatives, which has yet to indicate when it will take up the measure.
The debate over whether or not to remove the flag was stirred by the murder two weeks ago of nine Bible study attendees at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The flag has flown on the South Carolina state house grounds for over 50 years, having first been raised there as a protest against the federal push for desegregation in the early 1960s.
However much of the back-and-forth between the senators on Monday harkened back to the South Carolina that existed 100 years earlier.
After one elderly white senator bemoaned the loss of the flag, saying it was tantamount to losing the Civil War all over again, he was gently rebuked by a black colleague, Senator Darrell Jackson of Richland County, whose great grandfather, Ishmael Jackson, left the plantation where he was enslaved and joined General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through the state.
“In 1860, 57 percent of the population of South Carolina was black,” the Senator said. “As a result, I think it is kind of ironic when I hear all this discussion today about how we ‘lost’ the war. No, we didn’t. Not Ishmael Jackson and the 57 percent of people who looked like him in South Carolina. … As far as they were concerned, they won the war because they were set free.”
Jackson went on to say that when he passes the monument of the Confederate soldier that stands next to the controversial flag, “I do not get goose bumps and feel all warm and fuzzy; but I respect the fact that you do.”
“All I am saying is you cannot force all of us to have the passion that some of you have about certain things,” he said.
Among those who shared that opinion was Senator Vincent Sheheen, a Democrat who has twice run for governor and lost to the current incumbent, Gov. Nikki Haley.
“What happened a couple of weeks ago opened the eyes of many people in this chamber, and many people in this state,” Sheheen said.
But there were still dissenters, among them Senator Paul Thurmond, the son of Strom Thurmond, who made an unsuccessful motion to table the bill.
Far more insistent was Senator Lee Bright, who represents Spartanburg and Greenville counties in the state’s solidly conservative upstate region.
Bright twice proposed amending the bill, first suggesting that the question of removing the flag from the state house grounds be the subject of a statewide referendum, and then, once that failed, suggesting that the flag be flown on the state house grounds on Confederate Memorial Day.
Although Confederate Memorial Day is observed across the south, each state has chosen the date it feels is most appropriate. In South Carolina that day is May 10, the day Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died in 1863, and the day Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured by Union forces in 1865.
Sen. Bright said during the debate that he believed the national media has become obsessed with the debate when more pressing matters, like the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, are at hand.
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