Confederate flag removed entirely from South Carolina Statehouse
For the first time since the civil rights movement, the Confederate flag was removed entirely from the South Carolina Statehouse, in a swift ceremony Friday before thousands of people who cheered as the Civil War-era banner was lowered from a 30-foot flagpole.
Many people believed the flag would fly indefinitely in this state, which was the first to leave Union, but the killing of nine black church members during a Bible study in Charleston last month changed that sentiment and reignited calls to bring down Confederate flags and symbols across the nation.
Dylann Roof, a white man who was photographed with the Confederate flag, is charged in the shooting deaths, and authorities have called the killings a hate crime.
The crowd, estimated at up to 10,000 people, chanted “USA, USA’’ and “hey, hey, hey, goodbye’’ as an honour 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.’’
Haley supported the flag before the shooting, but the Republican had a change of heart in the days after the killings and led the push to get legislators to pass a bill before the end of the summer. She signed the legislation Thursday.
As she looked on, two white troopers rolled up the flag neatly and tied it with a white ribbon. They handed it to a black trooper who brought it to the Statehouse steps.
Highway Patrol Cpl. Rupert Pope downplayed the significance of their race in the ceremony.
“We’re all grey,’’ he said, with the other officers nodding in agreement.
President Barack Obama tweeted minutes after the flag was down, saying it was “a sign of good will and healing and a meaningful step towards a better future.’’ Obama delivered a eulogy at the funeral for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was also pastor of the church where the killings took place.
The honour guard was the same group of men who carried Pinckney’s coffin into the Statehouse for a viewing last month.
Denise Quarles’ mother, Myra Thompson, received her license to preach just hours before the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
Quarles said the group known as the Emanuel 9 smiled from heaven as the Confederate flag was taken down for good.
“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,’’ Quarles said.
A van brought the flag to the nearby Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. There, it eventually will be housed in a multimillion-dollar shrine lawmakers promised to build as part of a deal to get a bill passed removing the flag.
“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.”
An honor guard from the South Carolina Highway patrol lowers the Confederate battle flag as it is removed from the Capitol grounds Friday.