South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said on Monday that the Confederate flag must come down from the grounds of the state capitol.
Haley’s call came after a massacre last week at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. The suspect, Dylan Roof, appeared to have white supremacist ties and was often pictured with the flag.
Haley said Roof had a “sick and twisted view of the flag” and noted that most South Carolinians who support the flag view it as a “symbol of respect, integrity and duty” and as a way to memorialize and honor ancestors. For others, she noted, the flag is a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
During the news conference, Haley said the “heart and soul of South Carolina” was “starting to mend” following the shooting and noted that the removal of the flag from the state capitol was a step in this healing process.
“My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in heaven,” she said.
Haley said she would use her authority as governor to force the General Assembly back into session if they did not have a debate over the removal of the flag.
In the days since the massacre, many of the 2016 presidential candidates were asked about the display of the flag in South Carolina.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said he had removed the flag from Florida’s state capitol and supported South Carolina doing the same. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and current Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said it was a question for South Carolina, not for presidential candidates.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who stood behind Haley as she made the call, said earlier on Monday that he thought the flag should be removed from the capitol of his home state. That was a change from what he said on Friday when he described the flag as being “part of who we are.”
During the Monday news conference, Haley said that, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, it was time to remove the flag.
“There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment. I respect that,” Haley said. “But know this, for good and for bad, whether it is on the state house grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina. But this is a moment in which we can say that that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”
In addition to Graham, Haley was surrounded by several members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Tim Scott (R) and Reps. James Clyburn (D) and Mark Sanford (R).
Last week, Haley said her focus was on healing South Carolinians and not discussing policy such as the presence of the Confederate flag.
“To start having policy conversations with the people of South Carolina, I understand that’s what y’all want,” Haley said. “My job is to heal the people of this state.”
In the past, Haley supported the the flag, saying that South Carolina “fixed” its race issues when it elected her, the first Indian-American female governor.
Watch Haley’s statement below, from CNN: