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Charleston, S.C., Mass Shooting Renews Debate Over Confederate Flag


We're going to get more reaction, now, to the call today from South Carolina's governor to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol. Republican Nikki Haley's announcement comes in the wake of the killing of nine people in an African-American church in Charleston. The man charged with the mass shooting, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, has been linked to white supremacist beliefs and posted photos of himself with the Confederate flag online. In a moment, a state rep who represents a conservative district in the state weighs in. First, we hear from NPR's David Schaper in Charleston

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Surrounded by lawmakers from both parties, Governor Nikki Haley said the Confederate flag will always be a part of the South Carolina soil and a source of pride for many. But, she adds, to others, the flag is deeply offensive. She says neither viewpoint has to win. South Carolinians can fly the Confederate flag on their private property, but at the statehouse, she says, it's different.


NIKKI HALEY: Today, we are here, in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.


SCHAPER: Haley says she wants the general assembly to deal with the issue in their upcoming special session. Controversy over flying the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds is not new. In the words of one Charlestonian, the flag has been controversial for 150 years. But the fray has heated up since last week's shootings at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.


NELSON RIVERS: The time has come to remove this symbol of hate and division from our state capital.

SCHAPER: Rev. Nelson Rivers of the Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston joined others at a news conference in Charleston before the governor's announcement as a growing number of faith leaders and South Carolina politicians are calling on Haley and state lawmakers to take down the flag - among them, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.


JOE RILEY: The time has come for the Confederate battle flag to move from a public position in front of the state Capitol to a place of history.

SCHAPER: Riley notes the many photographs in which alleged shooter Dylann Roof is holding and embracing the flag.


RILEY: Take away Mr. Roof's symbol and misguided idea of racial superiority and bigotry. Take it away from him and all like him.

SCHAPER: In historic downtown Charleston, tourists and the horses pulling them in carriages swelter under the hot summer sun as some discuss the merits of flying the Confederate flag. Across the street from the Daughters of the Confederacy building is the Justice family, visiting from Tennessee, where dad, Joel, says the Confederate flag is also still flown proudly by some.

JOEL JUSTICE: I think it's a part of American history.

SCHAPER: Joel Justice say it's a blemished history, which is why he says the flag has been the subject of a family debate the last few days, leading teenage son Jordan to chime in.

JORDAN JUSTICE: There's some blemishes on the United States as well, so...


JORDAN: ...And we still fly that.

JUSTICE: You stole my - that was my argument.

JORDAN: Yeah, that was your argument.


SCHAPER: But to many in Charleston, in South Carolina and, indeed, across the country, the Confederate flag is a symbol of a painful chapter in history. And as this city heals from an act of hateful violence, the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds would be a victory that is long overdue. David Schaper, NPR News, Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.