The Confederate flag has been removed from a flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse, where it has had a presence for 54 years.
The rebel banner was taken down Friday morning by a Highway Patrol honor guard in a ceremony attended by thousands who cheered at the removal, many yelling "USA, USA" and "Hey, hey, hey, goodbye!"
President Barack Obama said Friday taking down the Confederate flag is "a sign of good will and healing and a meaningful step toward a better future." Obama posted his reaction on Twitter, minutes after the flag was removed.
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South Carolina's leaders first flew the battle flag over the Statehouse dome in 1961 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. It remained there to represent official opposition to the civil rights movement.
Decades later, mass protests against the flag by those who said it was a symbol of racism and white supremacy led to a compromise in 2000 with lawmakers who insisted that it symbolized Southern heritage and states' rights. The two sides came to an agreement to move the flag from the dome to a 30-foot pole next to a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse.
Thousands of people showed up for the transfer. Flag supporters shouted, "Off the dome and in your face!" at protesters who wanted the flag gone, a line of police in special gear separating the two sides. A pair of Citadel cadets, one white and one black, lowered the flag from the dome as a dozen Confederate re-enactors marched to the brand new flagpole and raised the rebel banner.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley didn't show any emotion as the Confederate flag was lowered and removed until someone in the crowd yelled "Thank you, governor!"
Then, as the flag was taken down. Haley nodded in the direction of the cheering and smiled.
The flag was taken down by a state Highway Patrol honor guard. One trooper took the flag down, and then he and another trooper rolled it up. They handed it a third trooper. Then, when the flag was given to an archivist, Haley clapped.
Haley, who appeared on NBC's "Today" show shortly before the flag was scheduled to be removed, said it was an important step forward for her state but she wants the act to be more than a one-day event for the country.
"We can continue to move forward in a country in a way that unifies people and that shows what real love looks like. That's what I want people to get out of this," she said.
"I don't want this to go away quickly," Haley added. "I want people to remember what today feels like and know that anything is possible with us."
The flag came down 23 days after the massacre of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight others inside Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Haley signed the bill with 13 pens. Nine of them went to the families of the victims.
Authorities say they believe the killings were racially motivated. By posing with the Confederate flag before the shootings, suspect Dylann Storm Roof, who has not yet entered a plea to nine counts of murder, convinced some that the flag's reputation for white supremacy and racial oppression had trumped its symbolism of Southern heritage and ancestral pride.
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"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."
Supporters of the flag were disappointed, but resigned.
"It's just like the conclusion of the war itself," said Rep. Mike Pitts, who submitted several amendments to fly a different flag on the pole that all failed. "The issue was settled, and the nation came back together to move on."
States across the nation are moving on without their Confederate symbols. The rebel flag is gone from the Alabama Capitol, and the U.S. House voted that it can no longer fly at historic federal cemeteries in the Deep South. A city council committee in Memphis wants to move a statue and the remains of Civil War hero and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest out of a prominent park, and officials in Alaska want a new moniker for a U.S. Census district named for Confederate Gen. Wade Hampton.
Haley said the removal of symbols that have become divisive is the right thing to do for the family members of those killed at Charleston's Emanuel AME.
"We saw the families show the world what true grace and forgiveness look like," Haley said. "That set off an action of compassion by people in South Carolina and all over this country. They stopped looking at their differences and started looking at their similarities."
Following the decision to remove the Confederate flag from the state's capitol grounds the NCAA announced the organization will end a nearly 15-year ban on South Carolina from hosting sanctioned championship events.
"With this impending change, and consistent with our policy, South Carolina may bid to host future NCAA championships once the flag no longer flies at the State House grounds," Kirk Schulz, NCAA Board of Governors chair said Thursday in a statement.