COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – The Highway Patrol honor guard that took down the Confederate flag before a crowd of nearly 10,000 on the South Carolina Capitol grounds was the same group that carried slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s body into the Statehouse for his public viewing 16 days ago.
On Friday, Highway Patrol Cpls. Chris Martin and Rupert Pope rolled the banner neatly, tying a ribbon on it before handing off to the guard’s leader, Lt. Derrick Gamble.
Martin and Pope are white, and Gamble is black. But the men downplayed the significance of their race in the ceremony.
Pope said: “We’re all gray.” The other officers nodded in agreement.
The same men carried Pinckney’s casket June 24. He was one of nine victims in a June 17 massacre at a black church in Charleston. A white man who’s been photographed with the Confederate flag was charged, and authorities have said the shooting was racially motivated. The incident pushed forward the debate over the flag on the Statehouse grounds.
The troopers had to keep their assignment quiet, even from their families. Gamble says he’s honored and humbled to be a part of both ceremonies.