South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has signed a bill supported by Democrats and Republicans removing the Civil War-era Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol -- three weeks after the racially inspired murders of nine black church members. Haley handed each of the nine pens she used to sign the bill to the families of church shooting victims.
Lawmakers in South Carolina's House of Representatives followed the state Senate when they passed the bill early Thursday after more than 13 hours of emotional debate.
"It is a new day in South Carolina," Governor Nikki Haley said in a tweet linking to her Facebook page earlier in the day, "a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state."
The flag will be pulled down from the pole at a ceremony Friday morning. Haley said it will be brought down with dignity and put in its rightful place in a museum.
The president of the civil rights group National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Cornell William Brooks, said removing the flag not only "denounces an odious emblem of a bygone era" but also honors the lives of the nine church members killed in the attack. He said "this decision will make South Carolina more welcoming and affirming of all people, irrespective of their skin color."
An intense statewide campaign to get rid of official public displays of the flag began after a white racist allegedly massacred the nine black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the city of Charleston June 17.
Pictures later surfaced of the accused gunman, Dylann Roof, holding the Confederate flag.
That flag represented a handful of southern U.S. states that seceded from the nation in the 1860s in a failed push to keep slavery legal.
Flag opponents call it a symbol of white supremacy and slavery. Flag supporters say it is a sign of history and pride in their family heritage. Many of them abhor the racists who they say have hijacked the flag.
The Confederate flag flew on top of the South Carolina State House from 1962 until it was moved to a Civil War memorial in 2000. Flag opponents say it originally was put up over the Capitol to defy racial integration.I