For hour after tedious hour, the South Carolina House of Representatives debated whether to remove a Confederate battle flag from state grounds. They tried to amend the bill and stalled — in short, doing what state legislatures often do when faced with a tough decision.
But in the early hours of Thursday morning, one legislator, Rep. Jenny Horne, a white lawyer who said her ancestor was the president of the Confederate States of America, took to the podium and delivered an impassioned speech condemning symbols of hate and the violence that left nine black parishioners dead in a Charleston church, allegedly at the hands of a white gunman who espoused racist views.
“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage,” Horne, 42, a Republican, told her colleagues. “Remove this flag, and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age.”
Horne’s words cut through the debate that has splintered her state, the South and the nation in the wake of the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, whose pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those slain. Dylann Roof is being held on charges in shooting, including nine counts of murder.
Top Republicans, including Gov. Nikki Haley, had called for removing the battle flag, at the heart of the dispute over whether it was a revered symbol of Southern heritage or a despised sign of oppression of African Americans even after the Civil War ended slavery 150 years ago.
The four-minute speech was passionate and immediate, coming during a debate in the state where the Civil War began and where Strom Thurmond, a powerful voice among segregationist Dixiecrats, was governor. The speech by Horne, from Summerville, S.C., went viral almost immediately.
“We are going to be doing this all summer long,” she said, stepping up to the microphone, referring to the cascade of amendments that the flag’s supporters were adding to the bill in a tactic to delay a vote on the substance of the measure.
“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,” she said. “And if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday.”
Horne then continued through tears: “And 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 bolstered her standing by reminding the rapt audience that her ancestor was Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It was her standing as a daughter with Confederate roots that seemed to inject more energy into the group backing the removal of the flag. The Legislature voted around 1 a.m. to back a bill that already had passed the Senate.
“Today, as the Senate did before them, the House of Representatives has served the State of South Carolina and her people with great dignity,” Gov. Nikki Haley said on Facebook. “I’m grateful for their service and their compassion. It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state.”
Haley announced she would sign the bill later Thursday. The flag is expected to come down Friday.