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Marking Historic Moment, South Carolina Removes Confederate Flag

During an emotional ceremony and amid popular cheers, the Confederate battle flag was brought down from a 30-foot flagpole that sits on the grounds of the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C.

The historic ceremony marked the end of an era and was conducted by South Carolina state troopers, who marched in formation in front of a cheering crowd of hundreds.

Slowly, the troopers cranked the flag down from the pole, folded it, rolled it up and marched out.

The crowd chanted, "USA! USA! USA!"

The flag was first flown over the state's Capitol dome in 1961, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War. But it was kept there as a protest against the Civil Rights movement. For years, African-Americans and other activists called for its removal and in 2000 after much debate it was removed from the Capitol dome to a spot just steps from the Statehouse.

As we've been reporting, the flag and the dark past of American history that it invokes became the subject of controversy yet again, last month, after a gunman entered a historically black church, opened fire and killed nine people.

After intense debate — about history, hate and Southern pride — both chambers of the state government and S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley agreed on legislation that calls for removing the flag and moving it to the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

Today, a day after signing that legislation into law, Haley watched the ceremony from the steps of the Statehouse. She was flanked by lawmakers — both black and white — and what began as a somber ceremony quickly turned celebratory as the crowd sang, "Na, na, na, na. Na, na, na, na. Hey-ey, goodbye."

From NPR member station WFAE's Tom Bullock, here's an image:

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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