The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to ban the display of Confederate flags at historic federal cemeteries in the deep South — a low-profile move that prompted an outcry from supporters of the flag.
Those supporters, including some Southern conservatives, were taken by surprise by the vote, and the bill's chief sponsor Wednesday night called for a revote on Thursday in which members would go on record on the display of the flag.
The vote to ban the display of the flag at the cemeteries came Tuesday evening after a brief debate on a measure funding the National Park Service, which maintains 14 national cemeteries, most of which contain graves of Civil War soldiers.
The proposal by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) added language to block the Park Service from allowing private groups to decorate the graves of Southern soldiers with Confederate flags in states that commemorate Confederate Memorial Day. The sites affected are the Andersonville and Vicksburg cemeteries in Georgia and Mississippi.
“The American Civil War was fought, in Abraham Lincoln's words, to 'save the last best hope of Earth,'" Huffman said in a debate in which he was the only speaker. “We can honor that history without celebrating the Confederate flag and all of the dreadful things that it symbolizes.”
The flag ban was adopted by a voice vote. The Park Service funding bill is scheduled for a vote on Thursday.
One lawmaker who protested the move was Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.).
“I strongly oppose the inclusion of this amendment, which was slipped into the bill in the dead of night with no debate,” he said in a statement. “Congress cannot simply rewrite history and strip the Confederate flag from existence. Members of Congress from New York and California cannot wipe away 150 years of Southern history with sleight-of-hand tactics.”
Palazzo said he would fight to make sure “the language is not included in any bill signed into law.”
Pressure has mounted to ban display of the flag on state and federal property in the wake of last month's slayings at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. The accused killer, Dylann Roof, posed with the Confederate flag in online photos and reportedly has told authorities that he wanted to start a race war.
Following the lead of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia.
But House leaders have deferred action on a plan by Bennie Thompson, a black Democrat from Mississippi, to ban Confederate images such as that contained in the Mississippi flag from being displayed in the House complex. Numerous statues of Confederate figures such as Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States, are also on display in the Capitol.