On Monday afternoon, in the aftermath of last week’s Charleston church massacre, Governor Nikki Randhawa Haley called on the state legislature to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s State House building. Haley is the first woman and the first ethnic minority ever elected as governor of South Carolina. Both of the state’s senators, including the South’s first African American senator since 1881, Tim Scott, and a number of other representatives stood behind and beside her as she delivered her remarks at the Sate House. (Read the transcript for the full text of her comments. Watch the video of her speech.)
The governor’s position reflects a definite change from her claim made last fall during a gubernatorial debate that voters should not be concerned about the Confederate flag flying at the State House because no CEOs had complained about it. Yesterday the nation’s largest retailer, Walmart, announced that it would remove all Confederate flag merchandise from its stores, stating that such items made their way into their assortment “improperly” and that “we never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer.
Haley gave reasons why the Confederate flag has to go (or at least be removed from the State House grounds), but presented them with affirmations of the flag as part of the state’s “noble” traditions of heritage and ancestry. Her speech sought to avoid alienating anyone by acknowledging the flag as a symbol of historic oppression (without mentioning slavery) and shooter Dylans Roof’s hatred, but also hedging with words of respect for those who want to revere the flag on private property. The following excerpt illustrates the nature of the rhetorical tightrope Haley walked at points during her speech.
For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble. Traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry.
The hate filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect and, in many ways, revere it. Those South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity, and duty. They also see it as a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict. That is not hate, nor is it racism.
At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past. As a state we can survive, as we have done, while still being home to both of those viewpoints. We do not need to declare a winner and a loser here. We respect freedom of expression, and that for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.
But the statehouse is different and the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way. Fifteen years ago, after much contentious debate, South Carolina came together in a bipartisan way to move the flag from atop the Capitol dome. Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.
A hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.
The governor ended her speech looking forward to the nation’s Independence Day on July 4, and to a time when the Confederate flag would no longer be flying at the state’s Capitol.
July 4th is just around the corner. It will be fitting that our state Capitol will soon fly the flags of our country & state, and no others.
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) June 22, 2015