Decades of controversy came to a conclusion on Friday, as South Carolina removed the embattled Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House. The action came as the state’s Senate and House, with support from Gov. Nikki Haley, voted to remove the flag earlier in the week.
A huge crowd cheered on Friday morning as seven honor guard officers from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety marched to the base of a flagpole on the South Carolina Capitol grounds. A roar went up from those gathered — estimated to be between 8,000 and 10,000 strong — as the stars and bars were lowered. Chants of “take it down” morphed into “U.S.A.” as the flag came down.
“South Carolina taking down the confederate flag — a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future,” President Barack Obama tweeted on Friday.
A festive air permeated the scene in Columbia, South Carolina, Friday morning, centered around the two blocks closed to traffic around the Capitol building. The symbol — which has sparked so much fervor over the years and in recent weeks — was folded into a small handful of material, and those gathered began jubilantly singing “hey, hey, hey, goodbye."
The divisive symbol now heads to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum nearby.
Haley, as well as other state lawmakers, watched nearby in the emotional conclusion to a heated weeks-long debate. Officials began dismantling the flag pole on Friday afternoon.
The removal of the flag comes in the wake of a shooting massacre that killed nine churchgoers, including longtime State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney. The admitted gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston 23 days ago. He sat with the Wednesday Bible study members, praying with them, before he opened fire. Roof, who was influenced by white supremacists, had been photographed holding the Confederate flag. The emblem’s connection to the tragedy catalyzed a movement throughout the country demanding the removal of the flag from the State House grounds.
The flag continued to fly outside the South Carolina Capitol even as Pinckney laid in state inside the building several weeks ago. Some windows in the building were draped in black at the time to prevent mourners from seeing the flag.
Nearly two weeks earlier, activist Bree Newsome scaled the same flagpole and removed the flag, insisting that the time had come to take it down. “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence,” Newsome shouted as she removed the flag. “I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” She was arrested after bringing the flag down and it was replaced an hour later.
Friday's sanctioned actions, however, represent a final turning point for the flag and closes a chapter of history for the South.