The Confederate battle flag, a symbol of both racism and southern pride, has been removed from the South Carolina state capitol grounds.
It comes 23 days after the racist shooting of nine black churchgoers in the state’s city of Charleston, by a 21-year-old who proudly displayed the rebel flag.
Shortly after 10am on Friday, more than 50 years after it was raised on state grounds at the height of the US civil rights movement, it was quietly lowered.
Crowds who came in their droves to watch the ceremony swarmed around the state capitol chanting ‘take it down!’
It was then folded up and placed in an armored vehicle bound for the ‘relic room’ of a military museum in the state capital of Columbia. It will reside with other artifacts carried by southern Confederate soldiers 150 years ago.
The crowd chanted ‘USA, USA’ and ‘hey, hey, hey, goodbye’ as an honor guard of South Carolina troopers lowered the flag during a 6-minute ceremony.
Gov. Nikki Haley stood on the Statehouse steps along with family members of the victims and other dignitaries. While she didn’t speak, she nodded and smiled in the direction of the crowd after someone shouted: ‘Thank you governor.’
The President led applause for the ceremony, tweeting: ‘South Carolina taking down the confederate flag – a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future.’
During his eulogy for one of the shooting victims, Rev Clementa Pinckney, he challenged the flag’s defenders.
‘For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now,’ he said.
Taking it down, he said, would acknowledge that fighting to defend slavery was wrong.
Civil rights leaders and activists who attended the ceremony and described the move as symbolic and emotional.
Rep John Lewis, who was heavily beaten while trying to cross the bridge in Selma in 1965, told MSNBC: ‘I must tell you, I was deeply moved, almost moved to tears, as I was watching MSNBC this morning and saw the flag coming down, a biracial group of state troopers bringing the flag down.
‘And I saw what was happening in Columbia, S.C., and I teared up. They did the right thing.’
‘It’s a great day in South Carolina,’ the state’s Republican Governor Nikki Haley said on Friday in an interview with NBC’s Today show.
As she signed the legislation to remove the Confederate flag on Thursday, Haley said: ‘We will bring it down with dignity.’
Haley called for the flag’s relocation shortly after the killing of nine black worshipers during a Bible study session on June 17 at a historic black church in Charleston.
‘I’m thinking of those nine people today,’ Haley said on Today.
The white man charged in the killings, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, appeared in photographs posing with a Confederate flag that surfaced on a website bearing a racist manifesto.
The image spurred politicians and leading national retailers to pull the flag from display.
In South Carolina, the first state to secede during the 1861-1865 U.S. Civil War, this week’s debate in the state legislature brought an emotional closure to a symbol long divisive in the state.
The Confederate flag waved atop the state capitol from 1961 to 2000, when it was moved to a Confederate war memorial near the State House entrance.
‘In South Carolina we honor tradition, we honor history, we honor heritage. But there’s a place for that flag and that flag needs to be in a museum, where we will continue to make sure that people can honor it appropriately,’ Haley said on ‘Today.’
‘But the statehouse – that’s an area that belongs to everyone,’ she added. ‘No one should drive by the statehouse and feel pain, no one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.’
The Confederate flag’s days as a public symbol – a flag or a state emblem – are coming to an end with the passage of Thursday’s law, said Carole Emberton, Civil War expert at the University at Buffalo.
‘Will people still wear the symbol on their T-shirts or fly it from their homes? Sure they will. But as far as this flag symbolizing a state or local government, that day is over.’
The 150-year-old flag was originally used as a Civil War battle flag by the seven slave states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) that broke away from the Union in 1861.
Due to the racist policies of those states, many calling for the flag’s removal say it symbolizes hatred and white supremacy.
It gained its modern meaning from the 1950s on wards when it was used in opposition to the Civil Rights movement that sought to end segregation and create equal right for blacks.
In 1962, when the civil rights movement was cresting and the president was putting pressure on the south to end segregation, South Carolina proudly flew the flag in protest.
Source: Daily Mail