In a historic moment for South Carolina, the Confederate battle flag is set to be removed from a 30-foot pole on the grounds of the State House on Friday morning.
That minor mystery will be solved at 10 a.m., when the divisive flag, which has flown at the State House for more than 50 years, is scheduled to be moved, by law, to the nearby South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
They figured that there’d be some attempts to take it down, so they wanted to make it as difficult as possible for someone to get it.
Rep. Cezar McKnight, Democrat of Williamsburg County
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Part of the mystery is practical: The pole to which the flag is attached appears to have no mechanism – no winch, pulley, or rope – that a person on the ground might use to bring it down. Some have speculated that this design was all part of the passion that surrounds anything to do with the battle flag, which had originally flown over the State House but was moved to the pole, next to a Confederate soldiers’ memorial, after a bitter debate and political compromise in 2000.
“They figured that there’d be some attempts to take it down, so they wanted to make it as difficult as possible for someone to get it,” Rep. Cezar McKnight, Democrat of Williamsburg County, speculated on Thursday.
On June 27, officers with the South Carolina Department of Public Safety arrested Charlotte activist Bree Newsome, who they say had apparently shimmied up the pole and unhooked the flag. A man accused of helping her was also arrested.
The other part of the mystery is ceremonial. Who will take it down? And what type of pageantry, if any, will be involved?
In 2000, the flag was removed from the top of the capitol by two cadets from the Citadel, the state military college. According to news reports at the time, the cadets, one white and the other African-American, gave the flag to Jim Hodges, then the governor, who in turn handed it to an employee of the South Carolina State Museum.
Queries to Gov. Nikki Haley’s office and to a spokeswoman for the Citadel went unanswered Thursday night. But it seems likely that the proceedings would be accompanied by a modicum of solemn pomp, particularly since a number of Republican lawmakers and others in the state consider the flag to be a near-sacred tribute to military veterans.
On Thursday, Haley signed into law the legislation calling for the removal of the flag from the State House grounds. Haley, a second-term Republican governor, had asked the Legislature to take the flag down after the June 17 massacre of nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The man charged with the killings, Dylann Roof, had posed in photographs alongside a Confederate battle flag. The authorities have described the shooting as a hate crime.
For much of Thursday, a number of curiosity seekers and protesters gathered below the flag in the grassy, parklike area in front of the State House. But soon after 4 p.m., when Haley signed the legislation, police officers barricaded the plaza that surrounds the flag. About 20 officers, many of them South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers, stood guard.
The plaza, one said, would not be reopened until after the flag’s lowering on Friday morning.
Officials from the Relic Room on Thursday issued a news release stating that the battle flag would become part of its collection. “The museum is aware that this is a grave responsibility and will formulate plans to appropriately exhibit it. The museum is humbled to play a small role in further uniting the citizens of South Carolina,” it said.