More than 1,500 people gathered Saturday evening at a hastily organized rally to demand the Confederate flag be taken down from South Carolina’s State House grounds.
Speaker after speaker linked the Confederate flag, which flies in front of the State House, to the church massacre Wednesday in Charleston, where a white supremacist gunned down nine African Americans in a prayer group.
Speaker Tom Hall said elected officials who keep the flag flying in front of the State House are embarrassed to fly it on their own property. Under S.C. law, two-thirds of lawmakers have to vote to take the flag down.
“Not one elected official has got that flag at their business or in their yard,” Hall told the cheering crowd. “(But) it is in your face.”
Former state Rep. Boyd Brown, a Democrat from Fairfield County, told the crowd, “We have to take Southern pride out of the hands of the racists and the haters.”
Several of the dozen-plus speakers called on Republican Gov. Nikki Haley to take the initiative and begin the work of taking the flag down.
Most of the crowd was white, but numerous African Americans attended, too.
Tiffany James, 34, an African-American government worker, said the rally was organized too quickly for word to spread in her community. But she was heartened so many whites attended.
“We are in this together as Americans. It was a message that we will no longer stand for hate,” James said. “This is the first step, and it’s a large step. If we have another rally, more people will come.”
The rally had its origins in a Facebook page – Take the flag down SC – created Thursday morning by Columbia resident Mari Borghani. The 34-year-old social worker said she woke up to news that a white gunman had massacred nine African Americans in a Charleston church. Within hours, her social media page had hundreds of likes. It now has 4,755.
Borghani was stunned at the reaction.
“I don’t want to be identified as a leader,” she said. “I really want this to a grass-roots community movement.”
Dozens of law enforcement officers were on hand for the rally. No arrests were reported. A lone man holding a Ku Klux Klan placard was not bothered by the crowd.
What those at the rally had to say
‘Let the people vote on it’
John Holmes of Columbia, who said he was Vietnam veteran, said the state should let the people decide whether the flag should come down. “Across the United States, the flags were taken down at half staff. But the Confederate flag ... they’re flying at full mast. That’s a smack in the face to the American public.”
‘Not ... Southern pride’
Clemson University student Briana Ryans, 21, said the flag “doesn’t represent our state. It does not represent Southern pride in the least bit. I have Southern pride, and (the flag) does not represent who I am and what I stand for.”
‘It’s about time’
“It’s about time this flag comes down. We couldn’t believe it when we moved here some 20 years ago from California,” said Debbie Harding of Irmo.
“The state was wrong in 1860,” said Dan Harding, Debbie’s husband. “They were wrong ... when they put (the flag) up. They’re wrong now. It’s way past time. It’s an embarrassment.”
Children fear going to church
After learning of the Charleston shooting, Chermaine Lemon said her children “were really scared and terrified about going to church because they said church is not safe anymore. ... I said, ‘No, that’s an isolated incident.’ But it’s a bigger picture than just that incident. It’s what it represented. I reassured them that they’re going to be safe. ... It may take time, but change is going to come.”
‘A painful symbol’
‘Catch up with the rest’
‘Put it dead in your face’
‘Not going to stand for that’
“I’m hoping people will continue to put the pressure that is needed on the legislative body, and that they’ll also see that this isn’t just about gun control or racism, or one single issue or one singular bill, that we’re going to need a much more cohesive effort if we’re going to see the change that we need,” said Devon Hicks, 21, of Columbia. “Every little step matters. What matters is that we embrace the fact that we’re not going to support it, that we’re not going to stand for that sort of symbolism.”
Staff reporter Jamie Self