Many in the crowd gathered around the Statehouse building in Columbia, South Carolina, watched with joy on Friday as state troopers lowered the Confederate flag from its post where it sat for 50 years.
In the aftermath of a brutal shooting earlier this month that claimed nine lives at Charleston, South Carolina’s historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the controversial relic of Southern pride became the center of a renewed national debate about what purpose the flag serves today. Dylan Roof, who was arrested for the shooting, seemed to be in no small way focused on an adoration for the flag and it’s perceived symbolic meaning.
“People say he was wrapped in hate, that he was a hateful person,” said Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg. “Well, his hate was wrapped in the cloak of that Confederate flag. That is why that flag is coming down.”
Earlier Friday morning, Governor Nikki Haley spoke on NBC’s Today show, saying “No one should ever drive by the Statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the Statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”
Supporters of the flag attended and expressed their dismay; several people attended dressed in full Confederate soldier uniforms. However, the event itself was a spirited and largely civil occasion, and as the flag came down, a chant of “USA! USA! USA!” erupted from the onlooking crowd.
Regarding the historic occasion, the NAACP offered: “This is a real victory—one we’ve been working toward for 15 years. It opens the door to even more victories throughout the nation. This symbol of hatred and intolerance does not belong in our public spaces, or on government property.”
President Barack Obama, who didn’t attend the ceremony, chimed in on Twitter, offering hope for the future:
South Carolina taking down the confederate flag – a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future.
— President Obama (@POTUS) July 10, 2015
Since the June 17th massacre, several other southern states have also made strides in eliminating the flag from public spaces, and several large retailers have stopped selling merchandise adorned with the flag.