COLOMBIA, S.C. — When Jenny Horne stepped to the podium to address South Carolina’s House of Representatives, her first words let on that she was fed up. Just not how fed up.
Of the words stirred by passion and uttered in favor of the Confederate battle flag and against it in Wednesday’s debate, hers would burn themselves into memory.
Horne started out with a calm complaint.
“We are going to be doing this all summer long,” she said, after stepping up to the microphone.
A handful of supporters of the Confederate battle flag had introduced one amendment after another to delay a vote on the bill to have it removed from statehouse grounds. And it was working.
They were unrelenting and introduced nit-picking stipulations: Add a new flagpole; dig up flower beds; get budget approval from a museum first; wait a year, then hold a referendum; just go home and think it over some more.
The amendments would eventually run out of steam, and the bill would pass, but not without a tough fight.
Descendant of Jefferson Davis
The heritage of the Confederacy is personal for Horne, 42, a Republican representative from a town near Charleston. She says she is a descendant of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president. She has served in the House for six years.
But as she listened to the hail of proposed amendments, fresh grief was simmering under her skin.
She had been to the funeral for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor gunned down by racially motivated shooter Dylann Roof last month along with eight other African-American members of a Bible study group.
Horne wanted that flag down badly.
But endless debate and votes to swat down the amendments dragged on.
As hours ticked by, they threatened to create new committee meetings and new legislative sessions to deal with them.
In the meantime, that flag would keep flapping — for weeks, months, maybe longer.
A glance at her friends
From the podium, Horne looked over to her black legislative friends, and the tears burst out of her.
“I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body …” she said, pausing to swallow her sobs and raising her voice to shout, “to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday.”
She thrust her finger at the floor with every word of her demand.
“And if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday. 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.”
‘Enough about heritage’
She reminded her colleagues that Roof had revered the flag for all the wrong reasons and that she was sick of arguments that have kept it aloft for decades.
“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage,” she said. “Remove this flag and do it today. Because this issue is not getting any better with age.”
She walked away from the podium and into bear hugs from her African-American colleagues. But in the statehouse, the proposed amendments kept on coming.
And they kept falling flat. Finally, early Thursday, the House voted 94-20 to pass the bill to remove the flag.
Horne tweeted out her joy.
It wasn't easy. It wasn't without emotion. But I'm so proud of my colleagues for doing the right thing. The Confederate flag is coming down.
— Jenny Horne (@JennyHorne) July 9, 2015
Later that morning, she said she felt “like we have a new day.”
“It’s bittersweet because it took a tragedy to bring this body to this decision,” Horne said.
But, referring to the Charleston shooting, she said she felt the legislature has met “tragedy with triumph and defeat with purpose.”
“I am so proud to be a South Carolinian and proud of what South Carolina has done to move this state forward.”
Her speech had been heard across the country and found resonance in social media in South Carolina and as far away as California.