South Carolina House Votes to Remove Confederate Flag From Capitol

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By Richie Duchon

The South Carolina House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly early Thursday to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds, just weeks after the fatal shootings of nine black church members reignited the flag debate.

The final vote of 94-20 after some 13 hours of debate is a stunning turn for the state that was the first to leave the Union and the site of the first battle of the Civil War. The Confederate flag was raised at its Statehouse to protest the civil rights movement more than 50 years ago.

"South Carolina can remove the stain from our lives," said 64-year-old Rep. Joe Neal, a black Democrat first elected in 1992. "I never thought in my lifetime I would see this."

The state House passed the Senate version of the bill, approved Tuesday and written to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Capitol. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will hold a ceremony at 4 p.m ET Thursday to sign the bill into law, and the flag will come down during a ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.

The bill requires the flag to be taken down within 24 hours of the governor's signing. It will be shipped to the Confederate Relic Room.

The effort to remove the flag from the grounds gained new momentum following last month's massacre of nine black people at the historic Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. Alleged shooter Dylann Roof, 21, featured the Confederate flag prominently in photos on a white supremacist website.

"We, out of tragedy, have created some degree of triumph," said Rep. Todd Rutherford.

Haley praised the vote as a "a new day" in South Carolina. In a Facebook post, Haley called it "a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state."

Republican State Rep. Mike Pitts, who opposes removing the flag, filed dozens of amendments Wednesday that would have delayed passage of the House's bill. "I grew up with that flag, the current flag, being almost a symbol of reverence, because of my family's service in that war," Pitts told NBC News. "It was not a racial issue."

But Republican Rep. Jenny Horne gave an impassioned and tearful speech on Wednesday night blasting her fellow Republicans for stalling.

Fighting back tears, Horne —who described herself as a descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis— recalled the funeral of murdered state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel A.M.E. who was gunned down while his wife and daughter locked themselves in an office.

"I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday. And if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday," Horne cried on the state House floor. "For the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury and I will not be a part of it."

After the Civil War, the flag was first flown over the dome of South Carolina's Capitol in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the war. It stayed as a protest to the Civil Rights movement, only moving in 2000 from the dome to its current location.

"South Carolina can remove the stain from our lives," said 64-year-old Rep. Joe Neal, a black Democrat first elected in 1992. "I never thought in my lifetime I would see this."

The Associated Press contributed.