The South Carolina Legislature has agreed to debate whether to remove the Civil War-era Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds after an appeal from Governor Nikki Haley to remove it.
Hundreds chanted "Bring it down" as they stood outside the State House in Charleston on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to scrap the official public display of what the protesters call a symbol of racism and slavery.
Haley said Monday that she would call the legislature back into special session if it did not agree to open debate. She said that while many in South Carolina respect and revere the flag, others see it as a reminder of a "brutally oppressive past."
The young white gunman who has admitted killing nine African-Americans inside a Charleston church last week is a self-confessed racist who has been pictured holding the Confederate flag.
Many in the state were stunned to see the Confederate flag still flying at the top of a pole on the State House grounds while the U.S. and state flags flew at half-staff in tribute to the shooting victims.
Sign of defiance
The Confederate flag flew from the top of the South Carolina State House from 1962 until it was moved to a Civil War memorial in 2000. Flag opponents say it was originally put up over the Capitol to defy racial integration.
The church massacre has led others around the country to take a second look at the flag and other Civil War-era signs.
Sears, Kmart and Wal-Mart — the country's largest retailer — said they would no longer sell Confederate flag goods in their stores. The online auction site eBay will also stop selling such merchandise.
The speaker of the House in Mississippi has called for the removal of the Confederate symbol from the state flag. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has ordered car license plates with the flag on them to be replaced.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want a bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest removed from the state Senate. Forrest was also the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group founded after the Civil War and still in existence.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the growing chorus of opposition to the Confederate flag on Monday. The Kentucky-born lawmaker called the flag "a painful reminder of racial oppression" and "that the time for a state to fly it has long since passed."
Presidential candidates - Past & Present
Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all businesses to stop selling products with Confederate flag images, and praised Wal-Mart Stores and other retailers for pulling flag-related items.
"You know and I know that's just the beginning of what we have to do," Clinton said in Florissant, a St. Louis suburb near Ferguson, the site of violent protests last year after a young black man was killed by a white policeman. "Equality, opportunity, civil rights in America are still far from where they need to be."
The flag is "a symbol of our nation's racist past that has no place in our present or our future. It shouldn't fly there. It shouldn't fly anywhere," she said.
The Missouri speech was the third time Clinton has made public remarks on last week's shooting in Charleston.
Last week, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney urged that South Carolina remove the Confederate flag from state Capitol grounds, calling it "a symbol of racial hatred."
Romney's statement was widely seen as intensifying pressure on current Republican candidates to face an issue of race and symbolism that has long vexed the party.
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 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 sign of hate.
Those who want to get rid of the flag 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.