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South Carolina Lawmakers Move to Debate Confederate Flag Removal

Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, has backed removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
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The South Carolina Legislature took the first steps Tuesday toward removing the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds after the massacre at a black church in Charleston.

By a vote of 103-10 in the House and a voice vote in the Senate, lawmakers voted to allow debate on the flag later this summer, when they finish a special budget session. The exact timing was not immediately clear.

State Sen. Paul Thurmond, a Republican and a son of the late segregationist U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, said he supported moving the rebel flag to a museum.

“I can respond with love, unity and kindness, and maybe show others that the motivations for a future attack of hate will not be tolerated, will not result in a race war, will not divide us, but rather strengthen our resolve to come together,” he said.

Earlier, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the statehouse, where the battle flag has flown since 2000 at a monument to Confederate soldiers. For four decades before that, it flew atop the Capitol dome itself.

“It’s time for South Carolina to get past its history,” said J. Elliott Summey, president of the Charleston County Council. “History belongs in a place. It belongs in a museum, not on sovereign ground.”

Added the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston: “Talk has been had. We don’t need any more talking.”

On Monday, Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed removing the flag, which she called “a symbol that divides us.” She said taking it down was one way to honor the nine black people who were shot to death by a white gunman last week at a church in Charleston.

The massacre has raised questions across the South about what to do with the rebel flag and other symbols of the Confederacy.

In Virginia on Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe moved to have the Confederate flag banished from state license plates. In Missisippi, the lieutenant governor said voters, not legislators, should decide whether to excise the Confederate emblem from the state flag.

In Texas, vandals defaced a statue of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president.

EBay announced that it would prohibit the sale of Confederate flags. On Amazon, Confederate flags topped the list of the fastest-growing sales in the lawn-and-garden category. Sales of one version of the rebel flag were up 3,600 percent from a day earlier.

In Columbia, South Carolina, the flag was raised at the monument on the statehouse grounds in 2000. From 1961 until then, it had flown atop the Capitol under the American and state flags.

The body of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, killed at the Charleston church, will lie in state at the Capitol on Wednesday. President Barack Obama will give his eulogy on Friday.

Lawmakers gathered in Columbia on Tuesday for a special budget session. Just adding the flag to the agenda requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.

By law, removing the flag would also require a two-thirds vote, although U.S. Rep. James Clyburn has said that law could be overturned by simple majority.

The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston started a count of where lawmakers stand on the flag. On Tuesday, votes to remove it were running about even with lawmakers who had yet to respond.