Obama praises Nikki Haley for lead on flag issue

Washington, June 27 (IANS) President Barack Obama praised South Carolina’s Indian-American governor Nikki Haley for calling for the removal of slavery era Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds 150 years after the end of the US Civil War.

“For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens,” he said delivering a touching eulogy at the funeral on Friday of the pastor of a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white man gunned down nine people last week.

“It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders,” he said turning his eulogy into a rousing political speech and a thoughtful discourse on race in America.

“But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor (Nikki) Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride,” Obama said.

“For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.

“Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valour of Confederate soldiers.

“It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong,” he said amid applause.

“It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”

At the end of speech, Obama to the surprise of the mourners launched into a solo of “Amazing Grace”. It brought the audience to their feet as they joined him in the song.

Haley has come in for praise from civil rights leader Al Sharpton too after he met her for the first time on Thursday and shared a hug at the funeral services for the Charleston shooting victims.

In clips Sharpton aired on his MSNBC show, the reverend said at the services that he spoke to Haley one-on-one, as opposed to how “she usually sees me out the window marching on her”.

“If you were protesting outside my window”, the governor replied when it was her turn to speak, “if you would have come inside and held out your hand, I would have hugged you”.

Sharpton quickly responded: “I’ll hug you back.”

Shortly thereafter, the two hugged each other and Sharpton, looking back on it, said: “It’s a step in the right direction.”

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