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Alabama removes Confederate flag

The Heart of Dixie takes the lead as debate over the flag rages across the Deep South.

The state of Alabama, by the order of Gov. Robert Bentley, removed the Confederate flag that had been flying on state grounds and at the foot of a Civil War memorial near the Capitol in Montgomery. The second-term Republican made the call early Wednesday morning.

"The governor ordered flags removed from the Capitol this morning. He does not want the flags to be a distraction from other state issues so he ordered them removed," the governor's press secretary, Yasamie August, said in a statement to msnbc.

The decision in Alabama comes as the Confederate flag continues to fly on state grounds outside the Capitol in South Carolina. On Tuesday, state lawmakers made an initial move to begin debate on whether to keep or remove the flag, but there's a lack of a general consensus and swift action on the matter is not expected. Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, is being urged to take unilateral action and remove the flag during the time when late State Sen. Clementa Pinckney lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Earlier this week, Gov. Haley emphatically called for the flag to be removed.

Related: The Confederate flag is just the first step

State Rep. Todd Rutherford said early Tuesday that the governor has the power to take down the flag temporarily for repairs, but a spokesperson for the governor disputes that claim saying she does not have the power to take down the flag “today or any day.”

During a meeting of the South Carolina legislature on Tuesday, opponents of the Confederate flag got a surprise supporter in State Sen. Paul Thurmond. Thurmond is son of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who, as an avowed segregationist, represented South Carolina for nearly half a century years in Washington.

“I am proud to be on the right side of history of removing this symbol of racism and bigotry from the Statehouse but let it now satisfy us to stop there, justice by halves is not justice,” Thurmond said. “We must take down the Confederate flag and we must take it down but if we stop there we have cheated ourselves of having a different conversation in our state.”

The Confederate flag has come under scrutiny in recent days following the mass shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, SC, where nine people were killed. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, is seen brandishing the flag and visiting Confederate sites in photos posted online. However, the pace at which actions have been taken to remove the flag from public places has been quicker than most ever expected.

Related: 2016 hopefuls speak out on Confederate flag

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, announced plans to phase out the Confederate flag from customized state-sponsored license plates. The Supreme Court ruled last week that Texas is free to reject a specialized license plate featuring the Confederate flag. Change is also being felt in Mississippi, where the speaker of the State House and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, both Republicans, say it’s time for their state flag to be redesigned.  

After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians,” Wicker said in a statement.

The current Mississippi state flag was readopted as recently as 2001 and is the sole remaining U.S. state flag to depict the Confederate flag in the top right, along with red, white, and blue strips on the right and bottoms portions of the emblem. A referendum for a new flag was defeated by 64% of voters 2001, but Gov. Phil Bryant says it’s possible the issue could come before voters again.