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South Carolina lawmaker urges The Citadel military school to remove ‘offensive’ Confederate flag from chapel

Summerall Chapel in Charleston, South Carolina. (Dreamstime/TNS)
March 04, 2021

A South Carolina lawmaker wants The Citadel to immediately remove a Confederate flag that hangs inside a chapel on its Charleston campus, calling the banner offensive to Black cadets who attend the state-funded military school.

After introducing a resolution Tuesday afternoon, Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, of Columbia, said the rebel banner does not belong in the Summerall Chapel. He also said its removal is not protected by state law.

“Get that flag out of a place where people worship their God,” Harpootlian said in a speech on the Senate floor.

The measure reignites a yearslong debate about whether the Confederate naval flag in the Summerall Chapel is protected by the Heritage Act, a state law that requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to remove historic monuments as well as the names of historic figures from public buildings and other places.

The legislative effort comes one day after The State newspaper published an article documenting racism experienced by Black Citadel cadets. In the story, Kumba McGill, a 2005 Black female graduate of The Citadel, called the flag in the chapel “a symbol of hate” and suggested the school move it into a museum.

Harpootlian said in an interview Tuesday he was “astounded” to learn that the Confederate naval flag still flies in the Summerall Chapel.

Despite multiple attempts to remove the flag, the banner still hangs in the chapel. Six days after the 2015 shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, The Citadel Board of Visitors voted 9-3 to support removing the flag.

Harpootlian said if his resolution passes, it would “authorize them to do that.”

Citadel officials have said the Heritage Act prevents them from removing the flag because it is an honor display. A 2014 legal opinion issued by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said that an honor display, even if it’s donated, is protected under the Heritage Act. The banner in question was gifted to the school in 1939.

A request for comment from The Citadel was not immediately returned.

Harpootlian, a Columbia attorney, called it “one of the worst opinions I’ve ever read.”

“I am not one of those folks that wants to rename anything. I think there are better ways to deal with historical issues than stripping away our history. So that’s not what this is about,” Harpootlian said while speaking on the floor.

He gestured to a portrait in the Senate chambers of the late state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who in 2015 was killed in a hate crime along with eight other Black parishioners at Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel AME Church, where Pinckney was also a pastor.

After motioning to the portrait, Harpootlian told his fellow members the Confederate flag was used by a white supremacist “as a basis for his execution of one of our own.”

He also said rebel banners were seen waving on Jan. 6, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“So when we ask African American citizens to go to the military school they pay for and sit in a chapel to pray to God and have to stare at that symbol, I think it is offensive,” Harpootlian said.

Harpootlian said in an interview that he has not formed a coalition to support this resolution. He did, however, speak to Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, a Republican from Georgetown and a 2004 graduate of The Citadel.

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