Some South Carolina College Presidents Call For Confederate Flag's Removal From Capitol

06/23/2015 04:46 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015
Joe Raedle via Getty Images

Several college presidents in South Carolina are calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag on display outside the state capitol following last week's killing of nine people at the historic black Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and the state's U.S. senators, all Republican, have called for the Confederate flag's removal from the statehouse grounds, and the Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston is tracking how many lawmakers are on record in favor of removing the flag. As of Tuesday evening, 92 legislators who had responded were in favor of removing the flag, while about half had yet to respond, were undecided, refused to answer or were not in favor of removing the flag.

In January 2000, 46,000 people demonstrated in favor of bringing down the flag from the state capitol, where it was being flown above the building. In response, the legislature passed the Heritage Act, which requires a two-thirds vote from the state legislature to change the name of streets, parks and other public areas named for historical figures, or to move the flag, which was placed on a staff outside the statehouse. This law has prevented colleges in South Carolina from changing the names for buildings honoring white supremacists.

On Monday, University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides went on record calling for the flag's removal, stating that it's "the right thing to do and the right time to do it."

Clemson University President Jim Clements and Bob Jones University President Steve Pettit both added their support Monday on Twitter.

Dr. David Swinton, president of Benedict College, said he joined the calls to end the display of the flag above the state Capitol in 2000, and continues to hold that position.

"Whatever noble ideals and heritage were once symbolized by the Confederate flag has long been lost to hatred and racism," Swinton said in a statement to HuffPost on Tuesday.

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The Huffington Post asked several other college presidents in South Carolina to weigh in on whether the Confederate flag should be removed from the state capitol. Their responses are below:

Furman University President Elizabeth Davis

“I applaud and support the state’s leadership in the call to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds," Davis said in a statement. "South Carolina should be a place where all are able to fully participate in the social, economic, and civic life of our state -- free from the fear and the symbols of racial segregation that diminish the life of all of our citizens. It is my fervent hope that the General Assembly will act morally and swiftly to pass legislation to take down the flag. This is an historic time in the life of our state. May those in charge have the courage to take action."

Wofford College President Nayef Samhat

Samhat issued a statement to HuffPost Tuesday afternoon adding his support to bringing down the flag:

I support South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and others in our state’s leadership who have called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds. It is incumbent upon us -- especially those of us who are educators -- to affect change that embraces the wonderful diversity that is South Carolina.

I urge the General Assembly to move quickly to pass the necessary legislation to remove the flag from this public area, which belongs to all of the people of South Carolina. Our state should be a symbol of diversity, creativity, transformation, and a unique blend of tradition and forward thinking -- where everyone has the opportunity to participate freely and without prejudice.

Clemson University President Jim Clements

Clements added in an email to the student body, "I write to let you know that I issued a brief statement earlier today, announcing that I join Governor Haley and other South Carolina leaders in calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds. Please continue to keep the families and friends of the victims in the Charleston shootings in your thoughts and prayers. A campus vigil is being organized for Wednesday to honor those who lost their lives."

Bob Jones University President Steve Pettit

College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell

McConnell, a former Republican leader of the state legislature and lieutenant governor the South Carolina, used to run a Confederate memorabilia shop, and was an ardent supporter of flying the Southern Cross on statehouse grounds. College of Charleston officials told HuffPost that McConnell doesn't expect to comment until after the funerals for the slain churchgoers.

South Carolina State University President Dr. W. Franklin Evans

The historically black university provided a brief statement on Tuesday, saying, "The president will not make any public comment on the matter at this time. Instead, he remains focused on the priority work to be done here at the university."

Coastal Carolina University President David DeCenzo

"I completely support Governor Haley’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of our statehouse," DeCenzo said in a statement. "This action demonstrates a vital step for unity among all people of South Carolina -– a step we must take to define and determine our future, and to begin healing the wounds inflicted by this tragedy."

Winthrop University Acting President Debra Boyd

"The Confederate flag is both an historical artifact and a visceral modern symbol of racism and oppression. The time is right to put the flag in a museum where the past is neither forgotten nor exalted but used appropriately to educate," Boyd said in a statement. "By moving the flag from the State House grounds to a museum, we demonstrate our resolve to move forward, together, as a people and a state.”

Benedict College President David Swinton

Swinton provided an extended statement to HuffPost on Tuesday:

I and the Benedict College family are deeply saddened by the tragic events in Charleston. We at Benedict College mourn the loss of those precious souls including our own fallen Tiger, Mrs. Myra Thompson. Mrs. Thompson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in English from Benedict College in 1979. We pray for her husband, Rev. Anthony Thompson, who is also a Benedict graduate and all the families who lost loved ones.

This unfortunate incident was the consequence of the continued racial division and thoughtless racism practiced by some in our State. The continued belief by some thoughtless minority of our citizens in the rights of the white race to oppress non-whites is at the core of such senseless and tragic acts. And unfortunately those extremists who hold such views have adopted and wrapped themselves in the Confederate flag. Whatever noble ideals and heritage were once symbolized by the Confederate flag has long been lost to hatred and racism.

I am very appreciative and supportive of the effort to remove the flag from the state house grounds. This was my position in 2000 when we joined in the successful effort to remove the Confederate flag from the State House Chambers and Dome. We advocated for the removal to a museum, perhaps the Confederate relic room at the State Museum. For many South Carolinians, the flag is a divisive symbol associated with secession, oppression, racism and discrimination.

The racial history of our State, which has been home for my family traceable back to the Civil War, makes it quite clear why many South Carolinians feel this way. While some see the Confederacy as a noble cause others see this rebellion as an attempt to destroy the Union and to perpetuate an unholy and unjust system of human bondage and racism. Those whose ancestors were enslaved and those who were sympathizers with the slaves cannot be neutral about the symbol of this oppressive system. But equally as objectionable is the fact that the symbol has been usurped in the post-Civil War period by terrorists and racists. Our State needs to put this division behind us and go forward as a unified people recognizing the dignity and equality of all South Carolinians.

I commend Governor Nikki Haley and all of the courageous political, religious, educational, business and other leaders in our State who have stepped forward to remove this symbol from our State House grounds. We offer our full support for this effort.

The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, President Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa

Rosa provided HuffPost with a statement Tuesday night:

I stand with other state leaders who have called for the removal of the Confederate Flag from Statehouse grounds. At The Citadel we pride ourselves on our core values of honor, duty and respect. Removing the flag is an example of the principled leadership we seek to instill in our cadets and students.

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