- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

COLUMBIA, S.C. The Confederate battle flag that has flown at the top of this state's Capitol since 1962 will come down after the House last night approved a bill that will move it to a nearby Southern history monument.
The Republican-led chamber approved the action by a 63-56 margin after debating more than 100 amendments.
The issue has divided lawmakers and the state's residents, even provoking an economic boycott by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People earlier this year.
But House Speaker David Wilkins, who caucused furiously as the vote neared, praised his colleagues for facing up to potential adversity for their action.
"This is a defining moment for the state," Mr. Wilkins said, reading from a prepared statement after the vote. "The debate here was about sovereignty. Today, South Carolina defined itself to the world as a proud people."
The bill was opposed almost down the line by the House's 26-member Black Caucus. Rep. Seth Whipper said the flag will continue to be a thorn to state politicians.
"This is not a compromise, it's a cram down," he said. "I think the issue will be with us a little longer. We will continue to have rancor."
The NAACP already has criticized the bill as insufficient and that it would not result in lifting the strike. Several black lawmakers have said that even the monument, on one of Columbia's busiest streets, is too prominent a place.
The legislation passed the Senate last month by a 36-7 margin. Gov. Jim Hodges has said he would sign the Senate bill.
Under the plan, starting July 1, the rectangular Confederate flag will be removed. A smaller, square version would go on a 30-foot flagpole adjacent to a 38-foot high Confederate memorial.
The bill was slightly amended and must go back to the Senate for approval. Mr. Wilkins said he was confident the House version will sail through with little trouble.
Many proponents of the plan mentioned the national attention the issue has received, noting that it has caused the state to be seen as a backward, redneck place.
"Do we leave it on the dome and continue to be the laughing stock of the nation?" Rep. Douglas Jennings asked.
Mr. Wilkins stated it flatly in a pre-vote speech: "This issue is hurting our state."
The vote was anticlimactic. As the results were tallied on two electronic boards above the House floor, most of the bedraggled politicians gathered their briefcases to call it a 12-hour day.
What to do with the flag, a symbol of heritage for some and slavery for others, has been discussed since the flag was unfurled in 1962 for the Civil War centennial.
The ultimate political price was paid by former Gov. David Beasley, who in 1996 suggested moving the battle flag to a Confederate memorial. It marked the first time the suggestion was made by the top official in a state swamp-deep in Southern history and the role of ancestors in the Civil War.
Two years later he was voted out of office; last night, he was elated despite having been awakened.
"It's good for South Carolina and it's good for the country," Mr. Beasley told The Washington Times. "Someone had to break the ice on it. You look at contentious issues through history and it always takes a while to resolve."
The vote came after a day of bitter debate on Columbia streets.
A group of black protesters burned Confederate and Nazi flags, and the Confederate monument where the bill moves the flag was vandalized.
A dreadlocked Kevin Gray, clad in African robes, led four other black protesters in the flag burnings in front of the monument.
"There is no difference between the Confederate flag and the flag of the Third Reich," Mr. Gray angrily told a curious audience and the strong police presence. "They are two sides to the same coin."
Other Confederate flags were carried about by several people marking the state's first official Confederate Memorial Day. All were serenaded by a tune-challenged flag supporter who crooned an off-key version of "Dixie."
Earlier yesterday, the words "Take it down, don't put it here" were written in red paint at the rear of a statue at the memorial.

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