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State removes Confederate flag

Published 10/07/2015

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley during a ceremony where she signed into law a bill enabling the removal of the Confederate flag (AP)
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley during a ceremony where she signed into law a bill enabling the removal of the Confederate flag (AP)

The Confederate flag has been removed from a flagpole in the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse, where it had a presence for 54 years.

The rebel banner was taken down by a Highway Patrol honour guard in a ceremony attended by thousands who cheered at the removal.

A van took the flag to a nearby museum, where it will be housed.

The move comes after the June 17 massacre of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church. A white man is charged, and authorities say the killings were racially motivated.

The shootings reignited calls to remove Confederate symbols across the US.

The flag was raised over the Capitol dome in 1961 to protest against integration. It was moved in 2000 to a flagpole in front of the Statehouse. The flagpole, too, will be torn down, but no timetable is set.

Governor Nikki Haley said earlier she was proud of how her state had responded to the shootings.

She said South Carolinians honour tradition and history but the Confederate flag belonged in a museum where people could honour it appropriately.

Ms Haley said: "No one should ever drive by the Statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the Statehouse and feel like they don't belong."

The flag will eventually be housed in a multimillion-dollar shrine policy-makers promised to build as part of a compromise to get the bill ordering the flag's removal through the state legislature.

The flag came down 23 days after the massacre of state senator Clementa Pinckney and eight others inside Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

By posing with the Confederate flag before the shootings, suspect Dylann Storm Roof, who has not yet entered a plea to nine counts of murder, convinced some that the flag's reputation for white supremacy and racial oppression had trumped its symbolism of southern heritage and ancestral pride.

"People say he was wrapped in hate, that he was a hateful person," said Democratic representative Justin Bamberg. "Well, his hate was wrapped in the cloak of that Confederate flag. That is why that flag is coming down."

South Carolina's leaders first flew the rebel battle flag over the Statehouse dome in 1961 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, when the pro-slavery South seceded and fought the northern Union. It remained there to represent official opposition to the civil rights movement.

Decades later, mass protests against the flag by those who said it was a symbol of racism and white supremacy led to a compromise in 2000 with policy-makers who insisted that it symbolised southern heritage and states' rights.

The two sides came to an agreement to move the flag from the dome to a 30ft pole next to a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse.

States across the USare moving on without their Confederate symbols. The rebel flag is gone from the Alabama Capitol, and the US House of Representatives voted that it can no longer fly at historic federal cemeteries in the Deep South.

A city council committee in Memphis wants to move a statue and the remains of Civil War hero and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest out of a prominent park, and officials in Alaska want a new moniker for a US Census district named for a Confederate general.

President Barack Obama said taking down the flag was "a sign of goodwill and healing and a meaningful step toward a better future".

Mr Obama last month delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Mr Pinckney.

The families of the nine victims killed in the church shooting had a front-row view for the removal of the flag.

The families stood on the Statehouse steps below Ms Haley and three former governors.

Denise Quarles's mother was among those killed. She said her mother, Myra Thompson, received her licence to preach hours before the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Ms Quarles said she knows her mother and the other eight victims smiled from heaven as the flag was taken down for good.

She added: "The tragedy was a tragedy. But now on the other side of that tragedy, we see a lot of positives coming out. Maybe people will change their hearts."

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