Thousands cheer as Confederate battle flag taken down
The divisive Confederate flag came down yesterday at South Carolina's legislature, drawing a line under a furore rekindled last month by the shootings of nine black churchgoers by a young white supremacist.
Thousands gathered at the State House in Columbia to cheer the removal of the red, white and blue Civil War-era battle flag, regarded by many as a bitter symbol of racism and slavery that has no place in modern America.
Many chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" as a state police honour guard in white gloves ceremoniously lowered the flag and then neatly folded it under brilliant sunshine.
"A signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future," President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, said on Twitter.
The flag has been a focal point of controversy in South Carolina - birthplace of the Confederacy - since it was raised in the early 1960s on the State House in defiance of the civil rights movement then sweeping the US.
It was relocated in 2000 to a 10m flagpole alongside a memorial to Confederate war dead on the State House lawn. But it became a lightning rod for outrage after the June 17 killings of nine black worshippers by a young white gunman during a Bible study class at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The dead included Emanuel's chief pastor Clementa Pinckney, a Democratic state senator.
Dylann Roof (21), indicted on nine counts of murder, had been photographed before the attack brandishing firearms and the Confederate flag.
Under state law, the flag could only be removed with the approval of two-thirds of South Carolina's Senate and House of Representatives.
That came this week, with both houses - dominated by Republicans - voting overwhelming in favour of taking down the flag.