As he drove to Columbia from Charlotte on Thursday afternoon, Malcolm Graham thought about his sister and how bittersweet it was that he was making the trip.
His sister, Cynthia Graham Hurd, was one of the nine black church members gunned down during a June 17 bible class at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. The shootings triggered a nationwide call to remove the Confederate battle flag that has flown atop South Carolina’s capitol building or at a memorial on the grounds since 1961 – after photos of the accused killer surfaced holding a similar battle flag.
Early Thursday, the S.C. House voted to remove the flag, following a vote by the Senate to do the same. Then Gov. Nikki Haley, who called for the removal days after the shootings, announced she would sign the bill Thursday afternoon, which she did with nine pens shortly after 4 p.m.
That is why Graham was on his way to Columbia, to “stand for my sister and be a voice for my sister and to stand for the other eight who could not stand for themselves,” he said. “I think that is what she’d want me to do.”
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Yet he won’t be at Friday’s flag lowering.
“I don’t need to see the flag come down,” said Charleston native Graham, a former North Carolina senator and Charlotte City Council member. “I didn’t give that flag much attention when it was flying, and I won’t give it much attention as it is lowered. This is more than a moment in time. It’s the beginning of a movement that South Carolina is finally finding its moral compass, to be a progressive state and to do what is right and honorable for all its citizens.
“It hopefully will be a movement of clearer and forward thinking.”
I didn’t give that flag much attention when it was flying and I won’t give it much attention as it is lowered.
Malcolm Graham of Charlotte, former North Carolina senator whose sister died in the shootings
When Graham heard Thursday that the bill to remove the flag had passed, he called Haley’s office and asked if he could attend the signing ceremony.
Haley invited him to Columbia.
He said is heartened by state legislators’ decision to remove it from the State House grounds and place it in the Confederate Relic Room and Museum – about a mile away.
He was proud at how Charleston and the state responded to the shootings.
“There could have been an utterly different response, but the community instead did what was right by conducting itself civilly and without violence,” Graham said.
He is saddened that it took the lives of nine people for state officials to bring the flag down.
“It is sad to say that if this tragedy had not occurred the flag would still be up,” Graham said. “That it is coming down symbolizes to me that my sister’s death was not in vain, that her death was able to shape and change public policy that should have been changed decades ago.”