The campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds marched forward as the House of Representatives emotionally debated the banner symbolizing slavery and racism for many and Southern heritage for others.

The state Senate first took up the bill less than three weeks after nine black worshippers were gunned down on June 17th during Bible study at a historically black church in Charleston. A white man, Dylann Roof, is accused in the massacre. The murders sparked a bipartisan wave of repudiation across the South, from politicians to businesses, led by South Carolina’s Republican Governor Nikki Haley.

The house passed the bill to remove the flag from Statehouse grounds on July 7th. The rapid pace at which lawmakers debated whether to remove the controversial rebel banner and then voted to do just that has stunned observers.

The vote came at the end of a day of debate in which several white senators said they had come to understand why their black colleagues felt the flag no longer represented the valor of Southern soldiers but the racism that led the South to separate from the United States more than 150 years ago.

As the senators spoke, the desk of their slain colleague, Clementa Pinckney, was still draped in black cloth. Pinckney was one of the nine people who were fatally shot during the June 17th Bible study shooting in Charleston. Authorities have charged the gunman who posed for pictures with the rebel banner and say he was driven by racial hatred.

Cheers and applause erupted as the Confederate battle flag was removed Friday from the South Carolina Capitol, ending a decades-long fight that was reignited after the murders of nine members of a historically black Charleston church.

“Take it down! Take it down!” the crowd chanted as an honor guard from the South Carolina Highway Patrol marched toward the flag pole. Two troopers reeled the flag down and folded it as onlookers took photos and broke out in song, while chants of “USA! USA!” could be heard from the crowd that gathered. They handed the flag to a trooper, who brought it to the steps of the Statehouse and handed it to a state archivist.

The dignified ceremony, which lasted less than 10 minutes, was an end to a complicated chapter in the history of the American South. While the removal of the flag can’t erase the South’s difficult past, it is a gesture of good will and will hopefully be a stepping stone toward healing.

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