KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The South Carolina Senate has voted to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse. This afternoon's vote is the first step in the legislative process to take it down. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the flag's removal after a shooting killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston. Ben Bradford, of member station WFAE, has been at the Statehouse in Columbia all day and is on the line with us. And, Ben, the Senate began debate earlier today. How long did that last, and what did you hear?
BEN BRADFORD, BYLINE: Yeah, it took six hours. Everyone wanted to have their say. As for concerns, which you heard first, Senator Lee Bright, who's a rural Republican, led those against taking the flag down. And he said it's unfair that this debate is being tied to the Charleston shooting. Here he is.
LEE BRIGHT: I think that there are folks that appreciate Southern heritage that are being blamed and maligned for what one homicidal maniac did. And I don't think you can blame an entire Southern way of life on one lunatic.
BRADFORD: Now, Bright was maybe the most vocal, but of course, the vast majority of the Senate did vote to take the flag down.
MCEVERS: And this is just one legislative body, right? There are other votes. What about that? And what are the chances, if the bill ultimately does pass, the flag will come down?
BRADFORD: Yeah, it's not even the last vote in the Senate. They have to take another one tomorrow morning, although it's more of a formality at this point. Governor Nikki Haley has said she'll sign a bill, but between those two things, it has to go through the state House of Representatives, which is more of a wildcard. A Charleston newspaper poll showed just enough support there. But House Speaker Jay Lucas hasn't said when or how he'll bring it up, so we're looking at something that could take days or weeks.
MCEVERS: And, actually - and, actually, this isn't the first time that this has been debated, right? This - this debate stretches back decades.
BRADFORD: It does. I mean, the flag has been flying since 1961. And until 15 years ago, it flew over the Statehouse right next to the American flag and the South Carolina state flag. NAACP-led protests in 2000 resulted in a compromise where the flag came down and moved to a Confederate memorial on the edge of the Capitol grounds. I talked to Reverend Nelson Rivers III, who's a pastor in North Charleston, and he led protests during that debate and was back again today. And here's what he said.
NELSON RIVERS III: It's been a long time coming. It's a bad bargain for us because it took nine lives to make the state do what they should have done. And unfortunately, you know, sometimes innocent blood is what it takes. It should not have taken that, and it pains me every time I think about them because I knew so many of the people. But if you could not stop their death, at least you can honor their living by doing this.
MCEVERS: It sounds like both sides are pretty dug in.
BRADFORD: Yeah. Proponents for keeping the flag say it honors their heritage and those who died in the war and the Southern way of life. And you heard the reverend talking about honor right there as well 'cause those who want it down say it celebrates divisiveness and represents racism and slavery and that it dishonors America.
MCEVERS: Ben Bradford is from member station WFAE in Columbia, S.C. The state Senate there voted today to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the Statehouse. Thanks so much, Ben.
BRADFORD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.