South Carolina's state senate voted Monday to remove the Civil War-era Confederate flag that has flown over parts of the state capitol for more than 50 years.
The bipartisan proposal, which emerged after last month’s massacre at a historic black church in Charleston, was approved by a 37-to-3 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
It now faces a final reading on Tuesday before it is taken up by the House of Representatives.
The political discussion comes after numerous officials, including Republican Governor Nikki Haley, called for the flag's removal after the June 17 massacre of nine African American churchgoers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston.
Hundreds of people have held weekly demonstrations urging lawmakers to scrap the official public display of what the protesters call a symbol of racism and slavery.
Many in South Carolina have been calling for the removal of the flag for years. But several counter-demonstrations have also been held, calling for the flag to remain displayed.
Debates can be held now in the House on a similar measure.
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.
An activist climbed the flagpole outside the South Carolina state Capitol building in June and briefly removed the Confederate flag, a day after President Barack Obama called it “a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.”
The president discussed the flag during his eulogy for state senator and pastor of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, Clementa Pinckney.
"Removing the flag from this state’s Capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought - the cause of slavery - was wrong,” said Obama.
Civil War legacy
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 also prompted other states to revisit their own relationship to Confederate symbols. The legacy of the war that divided the nation includes statues in statehouses, special license plates drivers can purchase that feature the symbols, as well as numerous roads and schools named after generals and politicians from the Confederate States of America.
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 linked to the issue of slavery that was one of several factors that launched the Civil War. 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 it is a constant reminder of the concept of white supremacy.