Today, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R), flanked by leaders from both parties including U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Lindsay Graham and Democrat Congressman James Clyburn, held a press conference to formally announce her support to have the Confederate flag removed from the State Capitol grounds. The pressure to remove the flag, of course, comes following the murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston’s Emanuel AME church.
It was a politically savvy speech, in which she maintained her conservative creds by acknowledging those she knew wanted the flag to remain without being (completely) insensitive those who wanted it gone.
She spoke about “moving forward” and acknowledged that “on matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history.” [That’s an understatement.] She also sought to distinguish between South Carolinians who revered the flag’s heritage from the likes of Dylann Roof, whose use of the flag was “sick and twisted.” [Translation: There are good and bad flaggers.] And, while she supported the private display of the Confederate flag, she noted that “The State House is different.” Yes, it is.
Then she got to the business at hand. “With no ill will,” she said, “it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” The room erupted with applause. She went further and declared that she will use her authority as governor to return the South Carolina state legislature to session to take action to remove the flag if it has not done so by the close of the legislative session that ends this week. While she offered her respect to those who still revered the flag, she was quick to return the focus to those who lost their lives in Charleston on June 17, 2015. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” and acknowledged that the fact that the flag “causes so much pain” was reason enough to take it down.
This is a swift turnaround from just a few days before. Then, Haley expressed no interest in “policy discussions,” saying instead that her job was “to heal the people of this state.” She also maintained that the flag, an emblem of white supremacy and violence, posed no problems or even discussions with CEOs planning to set up shop in South Carolina.
But she could not ignore the flag’s association with this latest act of racial violence, especially as images of 21 year-old Dylann Roof, who perpetrated this crime of terror and violence, circulated. Neither could she refute the recent protest on Capitol grounds, the #TakeItDown movement, and the moveon.org petition, which gathered more than a half million signatures calling for the flag’s removal. Even her fellow Republican Mitt Romney tweeted to take it down. [Note: If Haley wants to remain in contention as a Republican running mate in 2016, she needed to do this.]
One hopes, however, that the Governor finally realized that to truly heal the people of South Carolina, she had to consider ALL of the people–and not just those who still cling to a relic of the past that should have long ago been relegated to a museum.