COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Thousands of people reached out to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley after the slayings of nine black people at a historic Charleston church, condemning the violence as senseless and saddening.
Many of these messages — included among more than 10,000 pages released Wednesday by Haley’s office — praise the Republican governor as courageous for calling to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds.
But many others, while criticizing the violence, urged her to leave the flag alone rather than make a “knee jerk” reaction to the shootings.
The messages arrived from across the state and as far away as Texas, Washington and Hawaii. To many, Haley sent a standard response, thanking the writer for his or her message and praising South Carolina for unifying in the face of tragedy.
The documents, released in response to open records requests, reflect the divisiveness of the debate over the banner that had flown on the Statehouse grounds until Dylann Roof, the white man charged in the shootings, posed with the battle flag and talked of trying to start a race war.
Just five days after the shootings at Emanuel AME Church, amid heated conversations nationwide over race relations and the legacy of Confederate symbols, Haley held an emotional news conference to say the flag should be taken down.
“The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand,” Haley said then. “The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds. It is, after all, a Capitol that belongs to all of us.”
Thousands gathered on July 10, 2015 to observe the honor guard lowering the flag from 30-foot pole near a Confederate soldier monument.
It has been kept since then in a climate-controlled storage unit at the Confederate Relic Room, since lawmakers have offered no money for a special display.
The document release comes just days before the one-year anniversary of its furling.
All the messages are passionate. Some are just a single sentence, praising Haley or condemning her for taking her stand. Others go on for pages, even including news articles or historical information.
There are racial epithets, too, aimed at the nine black shooting victims and at Haley, whose parents emigrated from India.
All of the senders’ last names and contact information have been redacted.
“You boycott my flag, I boycott you,” one wrote.
“What will you give up next when they ask. Our Bibles? Our guns? Our children?” another questioned.
Still others praised Haley’s leadership in the tragedy’s aftermath.
“You made me very proud. Thank you,” one wrote.
And another congratulated Haley for her “gutsy” move, adding: “You make me so proud as an American, as a fellow Republican, and as a United Methodist, too.”
Some messages were handwritten, including poignant letters from children.
“I’m scared and I’m sad that it might happen to my church,” one 7-year-old girl wrote to the governor, her message signed with a smiley face and hearts.
“This is not fair,” another child wrote, drawing a large, crying frowny face. “Black people get killed for no reason.”
Other documents involve internal communications with the governor’s office related to the flag removal ceremony. All state lawmakers and Cabinet-level officials were invited, although some chose not to attend.
The governor’s office also told state agencies that for nine days, their employees did not have to say, “It’s a great day in South Carolina” upon answering the phone. Haley instituted that cheery greeting in 2011.
The release of the messages comes as both federal and state death penalty cases against Roof move toward trial. On Tuesday, his federal defense team filed court papers challenging the constitutionality of the federal hate crimes law, a legal longshot they say they’ll drop if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty.
Roof’s trial on three-dozen federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion, is set to begin in November. He is scheduled to go on trial on state charges of murder, attempted murder and weapons violation in January.