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'A New Day': S.C. To Remove Confederate Flag From Capitol Grounds

State Rep. John King, D-York, hugs a woman after the House approved a bill removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds early Thursday in Columbia, S.C.
John Bazemore
State Rep. John King, D-York, hugs a woman after the House approved a bill removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds early Thursday in Columbia, S.C.

The Confederate battle flag that has flown in a prominent spot at South Carolina's Statehouse for more than 50 years is close to being furled and put in a museum, after the state's House of Representatives backed a bill early this morning that would put the flag in a relic room.

After more than 12 hours of debate, the final vote was 94-20.

Gov. Nikki Haley, who is expected to sign the measure into law today, called it "a new day in South Carolina."

The bill requires the flag to be taken down within 24 hours of Haley's signature and shipped to the Confederate Relic Room.

Update at 11:05 a.m. ET: Flag Will Come Down Friday

Gov. Haley plans to sign the flag legislation at 4 p.m. ET Thursday — and the governor's office tells member station WFAE that the banner is scheduled to be taken down from its flagpole at 10 a.m. Friday.

Our original post continues:

The crucial "second vote" approval came after amendments to the bill were repeatedly tabled during hours of debate Wednesday. Dozens of amendments had threatened to stall the legislation, putting forth alternate options such as a public referendum or an alternate Confederate flag; one called for planting flowers in the spot where the flag now flies.

Wednesday's second vote was pivotal: In South Carolina, bills must be read and voted upon three times. The first vote is normally to introduce the bill; for the flag measure, that happened Tuesday, after it was approved by the Senate. The third vote is often a formality, but the House couldn't hold that vote until early Thursday.

The action comes two weeks after Haley and a bipartisan group of the state's leaders called for the flag to come down in the wake of the mass shooting last month at a black church in Charleston; the young white man who's accused of that crime had posted photographs of himself with the Confederate flag and other memorabilia that's associated with white supremacist movements.

The Confederate battle flag was first flown over South Carolina's Capitol dome in 1961, to celebrate the centenary of the Civil War. It remained there as a protest against the Civil Rights movement, moving to a spot on the Statehouse grounds in 2000.

There was celebration — but also sadness — after the historic vote to take it down. Those who opposed the flag's removal said the symbol had been "hijacked" by racists. But House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said: "I am 44 years old. I never thought I'd see this moment. I stand with people who never thought they would see this as well. It's emotional for us not just because it came down, but why it came down."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.