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Confederate flag removed at South Carolina Capitol

A highway patrol honor guard removes the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds in Columbia, S.C., on Friday. (Associated Press)
A highway patrol honor guard removes the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds in Columbia, S.C., on Friday. (Associated Press)
Jeffrey Collins Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina pulled the Confederate flag from its place of honor at the Statehouse on Friday, marking a milestone in how America commemorates the war that tore the United States apart 150 years ago.

Many people believed the rebel banner would fly forever in the first state to leave the Union, despite bitter feelings that remained after the flag was demoted from atop the Capitol dome to a Confederate monument out front 15 years ago.

But the killings of nine black church members during a Bible study in Charleston last month suddenly changed the political truths and consequences surrounding Civil War symbols.

The battle flag unfurled to assert white power and protest the civil rights protest in the 1960s had been defended by white Republican leaders until last month as a symbol of Southern pride. After the church attack, even supporters felt compelled to acknowledge that the flag also represents racial hatred.

“No lie can live forever. That flag is a lie,” South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph said.

The flag came down without incident, in a six-minute ceremony, amid a crowd of up to 10,000 people chanting “USA, USA,” and “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”

A multiracial honor guard of South Carolina troopers wearing dress-gray uniforms and white gloves carefully folded and rolled it up. The flag was then taken to the state’s Confederate Relic Room to be put in a new multimillion-dollar display. Later Friday, the 30-foot pole it flew on was yanked out after several mighty tugs from a crane.

Overseeing it all was an imposing statue of Benjamin Tillman, the South Carolina governor who went to Washington as a U.S. senator and proudly described how he undermined post-Civil War Reconstruction by killing black people who tried to vote.

Gov. Nikki Haley, who has national ambitions of her own, felt compelled by last month’s killings to call for bringing down the flag, only months after calling her Democratic opponent’s demand to do the same thing a “stunt.” Other leading Republicans swiftly reversed their positions as well, and Thursday’s final votes in South Carolina’s Republican-led Legislature were overwhelmingly in favor of removal.

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