How Jenny Horne's plea helped bring down Confederate flag in South Carolina

The impassioned speech by a descendant of Jefferson Davis appears to have been the key four minutes in a 13-hour debate over whether to remove the flag from the Capitol grounds.

John Bazemore/AP
Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, speaks in favor of taking down the Confederate flag during debate over a Senate bill calling for the flag to be removed from the Capitol grounds, Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. The House is under pressure to act after the state Senate passed its own measure, which is supported by Gov. Nikki Haley.

She stepped up to the podium in a light pink pantsuit.

At first glance, state Rep. Jenny Horne (R) was just one in the long line of speakers in the agonizing back-and-forth at the South Carolina House of Representatives over the presence of the Confederate battle flag on the Capitol grounds.

“I know the hour is late, so I will be brief,” she started out.

Over the course of the next four minutes, Ms. Horne would go on to make one of the most impassioned and moving speeches of the 13-hour debate. One that has been credited with helping aid the removal of what she and others have called a 150-year symbol of hate.

Her demure introduction belied the rhetorical and emotional firepower of her words.

“I attended the funeral of Sen. Clementa Pinckney and the people of Charleston deserve immediate and swift removal of that flag from this grounds,” she declared. 

A movement to remove the flag was reignited with the brutal mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church on June 17 that killed nine people in an act of racial violence.

“I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday,” she said, with angry tears in her eyes.

Throughout the debate, fervent speeches broke up attempts to amend the bill to remove the flag, which would punt the legislation back to committee and mean more debate and legislative rigmarole.

Horne – apparently – had had enough.

“And if any of you vote to amend, you are insuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday and for the widow of Senator Pinckney and his two young daughters that would be adding insult to injury and I will not be a part of it,” Horne said, choking back sobs.

Earlier, other legislators spoke about the flag as a part of their Southern heritage and tradition.

“I grew up holding that flag in reverence because of the stories of my ancestors carrying that flag into battle,” Rep. Michael Pitts (R) said.

Horne countered by relaying her own family history.

“I’m sorry, I have heard enough about heritage. I am a lifelong South Carolinian. I am a descendant of Jefferson Davis,” she said, referring to the president of the Confederacy. “But that doesn’t matter. This is not about Jenny Horne. This is about the people of South Carolina who have demanded that this symbol of hate comes off of the statehouse grounds.”

After a last-ditch effort to amend the bill failed, the legislation to remove the banner from the Capitol grounds passed with a vote of 94 to 20.

“Today, as the Senate did before them, the House of Representatives has served the State of South Carolina and her people with great dignity. I’m grateful for their service and their compassion," wrote Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Facebook. "It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state”

Governor Haley is expected to sign the bill into law at an event Thursday afternoon and the flag could be pulled down as early as Friday.

As for Horne, she said she was dazed, but proud after playing her part in the historic moment.

“At that point we were losing the vote. It was going south,” Horne told The Washington Post after the bill passed. “If what I did changed the course of the debate, and I do believe it did, then it needed to be done. Because that flag needed to come down a long time ago.”

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