By Pam Ryan
The controversial Confederate flag has been removed from the South Carolina statehouse grounds and will be placed in a nearby museum.
A large crowd gathered at the location for the historic moment. Members from a South Carolina Highway Patrol honour guard approached the Confederate memorial and as one turned a lever to lower the flag, while spectators cheered and chanted "U.S.A."
The ceremony marks the end of a highly emotional debate about the flag's place on state grounds after last month's mass shooting, in which nine people were killed at a church in Charleston.
The flag was linked to the shooting after the shooter was featured in a photo holding the flag and a gun, which then went viral.
Officials said the flag should come down, including Governor Nikki Haley, who asked the legislature to take up the issue.
“In South Carolina we honour tradition, we honour history, we honour heritage, but there’s a place for that flag and that flag needs to be in a museum, where we will continue to make sure people will honour it appropriately,” Haley said Friday morning on NBC News’ Today Show.
“But the statehouse, that’s an area that belongs to everyone. And no one should drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”
The Confederate flag flew atop the capitol dome starting in 1961; a compromise made by lawmakers in 2000 saw the flag moved to a Confederate war memorial on the statehouse grounds.
South Carolina’s Senate swiftly and overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill this week to lower the flag and place it in the nearby Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
That bill passed the House with bipartisan support early Thursday morning after 13 hours of increasingly tense and emotional debate, in which defenders of the battle emblem insisted it represents Southern heritage, not racial oppression.
Haley signed the measure into law Thursday, which dictates the flag come down within 24 hours of her signature.
She used nine pens in the ceremony; each pen will go to the families of those killed in Emanuel AME Church last month.
“This is a story about action,” Haley said Thursday. “This is a story about the history of South Carolina. And how the action of nine individuals laid out this long chain of events that forever showed the state of South Carolina what love and forgiveness looks like.”