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Alabama Governor Orders Confederate Flag Taken Down

Alabama state workers take down a Confederate flag on the grounds of the state capitol in Montgomery, June 24, 2015.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley ordered the Confederate flag taken down from outside his state’s capitol Wednesday after last week's South Carolina church shooting of nine African-Americans renewed the controversy over the Civil War symbol.

Bentley called the presence of the controversial flag a distraction from major issues. He said lowering it was "the right thing to do."

The South Carolina Legislature will debate taking down the flag from statehouse grounds after Governor Nikki Haley said Monday that it was time for it to go.

Haley said that while many in her state respect the flag, others see it as a reminder of a "brutally oppressive past."

The young white gunman charged with murdering the nine African-Americans inside a Charleston, South Carolina, church last week is an admitted racist who has been pictured holding the Confederate flag.

Several retail giants, including Sears and Wal-Mart, have said they will stop selling Confederate flag products in their stores.

Meanwhile, the body of one of the church massacre victims — Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator — lay in state in the capitol Wednesday. It was moved there by a horse-drawn carriage.

Pinckney's body was in an open coffin as mourners passed by with state troopers standing guard.

President Barack Obama, who knew Pinckney, will be in Charleston on Friday to deliver the eulogy at his funeral.

The Confederate flag was the symbol of the Confederate States of America — Southern states that broke away from the United States in 1861. They fought a Civil War for independence from the federal government and for the right to preserve slavery. The rebel states surrendered in 1865 after slavery had been outlawed in the U.S.

People in South Carolina and other states who want to keep flying the flag say the banner is about history, pride and family heritage, not slavery. They condemn racists who they say have corrupted the flag, turning it into a symbol of hate.

The flag’s opponents say no one can escape the fact that it once stood for a fight to keep slavery legal and is a constant reminder of white supremacy.