South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said lowering the Confederate flag is a significant step forward for her state but wants the act to be more than a one-day event for the country, she told TODAY in an exclusive interview Friday.
"We can continue to move forward in a country in a way that unifies people and that shows what real love looks like. That’s what I want people to get out of this," she told Matt Lauer in her first interview since signing a historic bill to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds.
"I don’t want this to go away quickly. I want people to remember what today feels like and know that anything is possible with us."
Haley spoke shortly before the flag was scheduled to be lowered where it has hung for more than 50 years. It will then be transferred to the "relic room" of a museum, where Haley said it belongs.
"In South Carolina we honor tradition, we honor history, we honor heritage, but there’s a place for that flag and that flag needs to be in a museum, where we will continue to make sure people will honor it appropriately," she said. "But the statehouse, that’s an area that belongs to everyone. And no one should drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong. So I think it's a hopeful day for South Carolina. I think it’s a day we can all say we’ve come together as a state."
On Thursday, Haley signed into state law a measure ordering the removal of the Civil War relic during a ceremony in the lobby of the statehouse where the Rev. Clementa Pinckney once held office. Pinckney was the slain pastor of the historically black church where eight other people were gunned down last month by 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who has confessed to the attack.
The shooting, and images of Roof posing with various Confederate symbols, spurred national debate about the flag. On Thursday, lawmakers in the South Carolina legislature approved a bill that would allow the flag's removal from the state Capitol.
Haley said her state will continue to grieve the loss of those killed in the shooting, and some people will still be angry over the removal of the Confederate flag.
"It's going to be a while before the healing really starts to begin, but after the emotions come down, after everybody looks back, they re going to look to the fact that nine people accepted someone into a church that didn’t look like them, didn’t sound like them and prayed with him for an hour," she said. "The love and the faith and acceptance taught the entire state and country what love looks like."
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