South Carolina's governor has signed off on a bill that will ensure the Confederate Flag be pulled down from state Capitol grounds within 24 hours, following weeks of vigorous debate on the rebel banner's historic roots in slavery.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed off on the Senate bill hours after it was approved by the state House on Thursday morning. Before putting pen to paper, Haley saluted family members of the nine black churchgoers who were gunned down in a racially-motivated shooting in Charleston last month. That event kicked started the debate about race and the flag's continued place on government land.
"May we never forget the actions that those people took to get us to this point today," the governor said Thursday of the family members.
Some of those victims' family members stood at the bail hearing of the white gunman, Dylann Roof, on June 19 and told him that they forgave him. Roof had posted pictures of himself online standing next to the Confederate flag, and had stated that his motivation for the shooting was to begin a "race war."
In an earlier statement Thursday, Haley welcomed the House's vote, saying, "It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of." She added that the decision, "truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state."
The flag will be taken down from the pole on Friday and transferred to an interior relic room in the building for display.
A few weeks ago, removing the flag would have been unimaginable. South Carolina was the first to declare secession in 1860, but only erected the Confederate flag at the statehouse on the centenary of that event, which many saw as a statement in opposition to the African-American civil rights movement that was taking root across the country. Since then, many have vigorously defended the flag as a lasting testament to the valor of Confederate soldiers.
Several proposals to remove the flag from atop the Capitol dome — where it flew from 1962 to 2000 — and then from the grounds altogether ended in failure, as lawmakers and members of the public maintained the emblem was about "history not hate."
Lawmakers also moved to protect the Confederate flag under the 2000 South Carolina Heritage Act so that only a two-thirds majority vote in the state's General Assembly could bring the flag down. On Thursday morning, the House cleared that majority with a 93-27 vote in favor of the Senate bill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.