Following a contentious debate that lasted more than 13 hours, the South Carolina House voted in the wee hours of Thursday to approve a bill calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. But it was a fiery four-minute speech by Rep. Jenny Horne, a Republican state representative and descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, that is being credited with moving her fellow lawmakers to agree to take it down.
“I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday!” Horne shouted through tears from the House floor.
The debate came just weeks after the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where nine black church members, including S.C. State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, were killed during a Bible study session. The alleged gunman, Dylann Roof, was seen waving Confederate flags in photos posted to social media before the rampage.
“For the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury, and I will not be a part of it!” Horne, a 42-year-old lawyer from Summerville, exhorted, her voice breaking.
After Horne’s impassioned speech, the House approved by a 94-20 vote the Senate bill, which calls for removal of the flag within 24 hours of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signing it into law. Haley is expected to sign the bill Thursday afternoon.
“It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of,” the governor said in a statement. “A day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state.”
The bill calls for the flag to be moved inside to the state’s Confederate Relic Room with other artifacts from the Civil War.
The Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia last month. (Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)
Shortly after the 1 a.m. vote, Horne told the Washington Post she was frustrated with her fellow Republicans and felt she needed to do something.
“At that point we were losing the vote. It was going south,” Horne said. “If what I did changed the course of the debate, and I do believe it did, then it needed to be done. Because that flag needed to come down a long time ago.”
In an interview with CNN’s “New Day,” Horne said the victory was “bittersweet, because it took a tragedy to bring this body to this decision.”
She added: “I am so proud to be a South Carolinian, and proud of what South Carolina has done to move this state forward.”
Earlier, some of Horne’s House colleagues argued that the flag was a symbol of their heritage — and not racism.
“I grew up holding that flag in reverence because of the stories of my ancestors carrying that flag into battle,” Rep. Michael Pitts said. “I’m willing to move that flag at some point if it causes a twinge in the hearts of my friends. But I’ll ask for something in return.”
Horne wasn’t buying it.
“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage,” she said on the House floor. “Remove this flag, and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age.”
Rep. Joe Neal, a black Democrat, agreed.
“South Carolina can remove the stain from our lives,” Neal told the Associated Press after the vote. “I never thought in my lifetime I would see this.”
Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, left, embraces the Rev. Jesse Jackson after the House approved the bill. (Photo: John Bazemore/AP)