The Confederate flag at the South Carolina state Capitol, which has been the subject of fervorous debate over recent weeks, is expected to come down in a small and quiet ceremony Friday morning.
"We will bring it down with dignity and we will make sure it is stored in its rightful place," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said.
Visitors who still want see the flag after its removal from the flagpole will now have to hoof it one mile west down Meeting Street, where it will be housed at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia. It will eventually be enshrined in a multi-million dollar exhibit lawmakers agreed to as part of the compromise to remove the banner.
Debate over whether the flag should remain flying near the State House stretched for 13 hours in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Legislation dictating the removal of the flag from the capitol grounds was finally passed in the early hours of the morning Thursday. Governor Haley, who had lobbied for the measure, then quickly moved to sign the bill into law later the same day.
A debate over the significance of the flag was reignited with the brutal mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church on June 17 that left nine people in an act of apparent racial violence. In a symbolic gesture, Haley used 13 pens to sign the bill, nine of which were to be distributed to the families of the victims.
Lawmakers first decided to fly the Southern cross on the State House dome in 1962, the centennial anniversary of the American Civil War. From its early days at the state Capitol, the flag was a cause of divisiveness in South Carolina, the Monitor's Harry Bruinius reported.
“It was an act of defiance,” Kenneth Janken, director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told the Monitor. “People talk about ‘heritage not hate,’ but I think the context of it was really that it was not celebrating or honoring the sacrifices of soldiers as much as it was asserting an opposition to the civil rights movement.”
Since then efforts to remove the flag have perennially popped up. In 2000, it was moved in response to massive protests and a business boycott led by the NAACP to where it stands now, a thirty-foot tall flagpole adjacent to the State House.
South Carolina leaders hope for a more peaceful transfer than 15 years ago when a line of police in riot gear had to be enlisted to separate the thousands of flag supporters and protesters. 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.
Organizers were light on the details of what will happen Friday, but intimated that the ceremony will be short, simple, and dignified. The flagpole is also due to be taken down, but it is still unclear when.
Haley said that the removal of what has become a divisive symbol is an important step for the state moving forward together and a small token to honor the families of the people who died in Charleston.
"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."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.