By The Associated Press
A top Mississippi lawmaker says the Confederate battle emblem is offensive and needs to be removed from the state flag.
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday that remembering our past is important, "but that does not mean we must let it define us."
"As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag," Gunn, a leader in his local Baptist church, said in a statement.
Mississippi voters decided by a 2-to-1 margin in 2001 to keep the state flag used since 1894. One of its corners has a Confederate battle emblem.
A bust Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and an early leader in the Ku Klux Klan, still sits in an alcove outside the Senate chambers at the Tennessee statehouse.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers called for the bust to be removed Monday, days after nine people were gunned down in a historic black church in South Carolina. The shooting prompted calls from the governor and other leaders for the flag to be removed from the Statehouse there.
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, says the government should not promote "symbols of hate" and called for both to be removed.
Even though Forrest, a Tennessee native, was a Klan leader, the bust is inscribed with only "Confederate States Army." It has been at the Capitol for decades.
The chairman of the Republican National Committee joined Gov. Nikki Haley in calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of South Carolina's Statehouse.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus was among roughly 30 people of both parties standing behind Haley on Monday.
In the wake of the massacre in Charleston, Republican presidential hopefuls have been about the flag. South Carolina holds the South's first presidential primary. Asked whether Haley's decision makes it easier for GOP candidates, Priebus said, "It's not about Republican candidates because on the stage there was a group of bipartisan people."
On whether candidates talked to Haley, he said: "I don't know who was talking to who, but I can assure you there has been plenty of conversation going on for many days."
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spent several hours on the phone with the head of the state's law enforcement agency in the hours after Wednesday's shooting that killed nine in a Charleston church.
Haley's office released her schedule for last week, which included six calls to State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel from 10:25 p.m. Wednesday to 2:45 a.m. Thursday. She then traveled to Charleston to meet with law enforcement and was at the news conference when they announced the arrest of the suspect late that morning.
After the first call from Keel, the Republican governor called the minority leader, and the majority leader in the Senate. Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney was pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church and one of nine people killed during Bible study in the church basement around 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Haley also spoke to President Barack Obama on Thursday and with Pinckney's widow on Friday, according to her schedule.
Mississippi officials are divided over whether to erase the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, even as South Carolina leaders are pushing to remove a free-standing battle flag that flies outside the state Capitol there.
Mississippi voters decided by a 2-to-1 margin in 2001 to keep the state flag that has been used since 1894. It features the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner: a blue X emblazoned with 13 white stars, set against a red field.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday that he doesn't believe legislators "will act to supersede the will of the people on this issue."
Democratic Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, says the Confederate emblem is a "symbol of hatred" that's often associated with racial violence.
South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford says he's confident after talking to members of both parties that the Confederate flag will be taken down from the Statehouse grounds within the next two months.
The Democrat made his comments Monday as members of his party and the GOP called on the flag to be removed, just days after police said a gunman opened fire inside a black church and killed nine people.
"A lot of people understand this is a moment we have to respond to," said Rep. Rick Quinn, a Republican and former House majority leader who said he will vote to take it down.
The biggest questions remaining may be how and when legislators take it up.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has said that it's time to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds — and that if South Carolina legislators don't deal with the issue themselves as part of their special session focused on budget in the coming weeks, she's prepared to call them back for another special session.
Haley said Monday at a news conference that she's indicated her plan to the GOP-led House and Senate.
According to the terms of a 15-year-old deal that brought the flag from atop the Statehouse to a position outside to a monument for Confederate soldiers, moving the banner will require a two-thirds supermajority in both houses.
Haley reversed her position on the flag after a young white man who embraced it as a symbol of white supremacy was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members in Charleston.
Those surrounding her as she spoke included state legislators of both parties.
Moments after the South Carolina governor's statement, fellow Republicans echoed her call for the Confederate flag to come down, from the head of the Republican Party to the top GOP lawmaker in the U.S. Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement: "The Confederate Battle Flag means different things to different people, but the fact that it continues to be a painful reminder of racial oppression to many suggests to me at least that it's time to move beyond it, and that the time for a state to fly it has long since passed. There should be no confusion in anyone's mind that as a people we're united in our determination to put that part of our history behind us."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said "this flag has become too divisive and too hurtful for too many of our fellow Americans."
The remarks on the flag come after a young white man who embraced it as a symbol of white supremacy was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members in Charleston.
The White House says President Barack Obama will travel to Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday to memorialize the victims of a shooting at a historic black church.
Obama will deliver the eulogy at the funeral services of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Emanuel AME church where the shooting that killed nine people occurred.
Obama and first lady Michelle got to know the slain pastor, who also was state senator, during the 2008 presidential campaign. The first lady and Vice President Joe Biden will also attend the funeral.
Pinckney was an early Obama supporter.
Last week, Obama said the shootings show the need for a national reckoning on gun violence.
Gov. Nikki Haley has said the Confederate flag should be removed from the Statehouse grounds, but she also says the symbol will always remain a part of South Carolina.
Haley said Monday at a news conference that whether the flag is at the Statehouse or in a museum, it will always be part of the soil of South Carolina.
She says some people see the flag as a memorial and a way to honor ancestors. She says that's not hate or racism.
The divisive symbol has flown in front of the state Capitol for 15 years after being moved from atop the Statehouse dome. Haley says its removal may sadden some in the state, but the time has come to take it down.
Haley reversed her position on the flag after a young white man who embraced it as a symbol of white supremacy was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members.
She says that man has a sick, twisted view of the flag.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley says the Confederate flag should be removed from the Statehouse grounds, reversing her position on the divisive symbol.
The Republican's about-face Monday comes after a young white man who embraced the flag as a symbol of white supremacy was charged with murder in the deaths of nine black church members. The flag has flown in front of the state Capitol for 15 years after being moved from atop the Statehouse dome.
Haley was surrounded by Republicans and Democrats alike and received a loud applause and cheering when she made her announcement.
Haley said: "One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come."
The suspect in the church shootings, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was photographed earlier holding Confederate flags. Police say he made racial insults at the church members during the shooting.
Supporters of the flag say it is a memorial to fallen Confederate soldiers, but opponents say it's a symbol of hate put atop the Statehouse dome to protest the civil rights movement.
A person familiar with Republican Sen. Tim Scott's decision says he is calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.
Scott, of South Carolina, is the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction. He joins a growing number of calls for the flag to come down after a gunman opened fire in a historic black church, killing nine people.
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Police say a young white man is responsible for the racially motivated attack at the church in Charleston.
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Charleston contributed to this report.
A person familiar with his decision says Sen. Lindsey Graham will call for the Confederate flag flying on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds to come down.
The person says Graham will do so later Monday afternoon. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity so as not to preclude Graham's announcement.
Some Charleston, South Carolina-area political and religious leaders have asked state lawmakers to remove the flag from South Carolina's capital grounds in the wake of last week's slaying of nine black people during a Bible study.
A white man, Dylann Roof, has been charged in the deaths.
Graham said this past weekend he was open to revisiting the decision to use the flag, but said on CNN, it "is a part of who we are."
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans says it plans to vigorously fight any effort to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of South Carolina's Statehouse.
The group says it was horrified at last week's shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, allegedly by a white man who was photographed several times holding the Confederate flag and with other symbols of white supremacy.
In a statement, the group says there is "absolutely no link" between the massacre and the banner.
Leland Summers, South Carolina commander of the group, says the group is about heritage and history, not hate. He offered condolences to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and says now is not the time to make political points.
Summers said the Sons of Confederate Veterans have 30,000 members nationwide that will fight any attempt to move the flag.
The White House says President Barack Obama believes the Confederate flag should no longer be flown in Charleston, South Carolina, or elsewhere, but doesn't have authority over that decision.
Spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama has maintained for years that the Confederate flag "should be taken down and placed in a museum where it belongs," but recognizes it's an issue for individual states.
Some Charleston-area political and religious leaders are calling on state lawmakers to remove the flag from South Carolina's capital grounds after a white man killed nine black people during a Bible study last week.
Earnest says it's very clear what Obama thinks would be the appropriate action.
A group of Charleston-area political and religious leaders are calling on state lawmakers to vote this week to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina's capital grounds.
Officials including Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson in North Charleston on Monday called on legislators to stay in session and vote as early as Tuesday to take down the flag from its place in front of the statehouse in Columbia.
The Rev. Nelson B Rivers III of the National Action Network said the flag should be removed before the body of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney lies in state at the Statehouse on Wednesday. Pinckney and eight other church members were shot to death last week as they attended Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston.
Kimpson says he's informed state Senate leaders that there is a "growing chorus" of members interested in taking up a debate while lawmakers are in session to discuss the budget.
South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas says moving the state forward from last week's shooting deaths at a historic black church in Charleston requires swiftly resolving the Confederate flag issue.
Lucas did not specify what he believes that resolution should be or how legislators could take it up.
The Legislature's regular session ended June 4. Legislators are expected to return later this week in a short, limited session to pass a budget compromise. Both chambers would have to give two-thirds approval just to take up anything new.
"The intense and difficult debate that took place in 2000 over the Confederate soldier flag was ultimately resolved by compromise. Wednesday's unspeakable tragedy has reignited a discussion on this sensitive issue," Lucas said in a statement.
South Carolina was the last state to fly the Confederate battle flag from its Statehouse dome until the 2000 compromise put a square version of the flag — the South Carolina Infantry Battle Flag — on a 30-foot flagpole at the Confederate Soldier Monument directly in front of the Statehouse, along one of Columbia's busiest streets.
Dylann Roof, who is white, has been charged in the deaths of the nine people in Charleston.
Gov. Nikki Haley has scheduled a news conference for later Monday. Her office has given no indication of what she will say.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley says he has been overwhelmed but not surprised at the outpouring of donations for a fund he helped set up for the families of the victims of the Charleston shooting.
Riley said donations poured in to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund and the Reverend Pinckney fund. City officials are still trying to figure out how much money the funds had Monday morning.
"I've got $110,000 in checks in my pocket. It's wonderful," Riley said.
The fund was set up after authorities say a white gunman opened fire on a black church in a racially motivated attack, killing nine people, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
Riley says even in the darkest hours, as details started to come out about the shooting, he knew Charleston would show love instead of hate.
People can donate on the city's website: http://www.charleston-sc.gov
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