July 10, 2015

Confederate flag comes down at South Carolina Statehouse

Confederate Flag Race
Confederate Flag Removed 2 John Bazemore/AP Photo

An honor guard from the South Carolina Highway patrol removes the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds in Columbia, S.C., Friday, July 10, 2015, ending its 54-year presence there.

The Confederate flag was removed from its post flying above the South Carolina Statehouse Friday morning, sending away the rebel banner that is a symbol of slavery and racism to many but of Southern heritage and pride to others.

The removal follows a heated debate that played out in the public and made its way to the state legislature following a shooting that killed African Americans in a historically black church in Charleston at the hands of a killer with racially motivated intentions. 

The bill removing the flag was signed by Republican Governor Nikki Haley on Wednesday after it passed the state's legislature with mostly support and some opposition. 

The flag has been a point of controversy for its perceived racist symbolism due to its Civil War origins since the Charleston massacre while some have claimed it is an important marker of Southern Heritage. 

It's use not only at government institutions but also in pop culture and sporting events has caused executives and organizations to remove it or ban it.

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The banner, which went up on the Statehouse grounds more than half a century ago at the  height of the U.S. civil rights movement, was removed shortly after 10 a.m. before a large crowd and live TV cameras. The crowd chanted "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" and "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss it Goodbye," after the banner was lowered.

The removal of the flag came a little over three weeks after the racially motivated massacre of nine black worshippers during a Bible study session on June 17 at a landmark black church in Charleston.

The banner's new home will be the "relic room" of the state military museum in Columbia, South Carolina's capital, where the flag will reside with other artifacts carried by Southern Confederate soldiers 150 years ago in the Civil War.

Haley, who had pledged a day earlier to "bring it down with dignity," called Friday a great day for the state in an interview with NBC's "Today" television show.

"I'm thinking of those nine people today," Haley said, referring to the nine men and women gunned down at Charleston's African Methodist Episcopal church.    

President Barack Obama called the removal an act of healing Friday.

Reuters contributed to this report.