US & Canada

South Carolina urges removal of Confederate flag

The Confederate Flag outside the South Carolina State House Image copyright Getty Images

The governor of South Carolina has called for the removal of a Confederate flag from the state capitol's grounds.

The flag, emblematic of the south during the US civil war, was embraced by the man accused of killing nine people in a black church last week.

To prolonged applause, Governor Nikki Haley called for the "removal of a symbol that divides us", and urged the state legislature to act.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans says it will fight attempts to remove it.

The group says it symbolises their heritage and history, not hate, and offered condolences to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the attack took place.

At a news conference, South Carolina Governor Haley acknowledged that point of view but said to many others it was a "deeply offensive symbol of brutal oppression".

Hours later, Walmart announced it would no longer stock any products that display the Confederation flag.

The flag was originally the battle flag of the southern states in the American Civil War when they tried to break away to prevent the abolition of slavery.

At the scene - Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News, Charleston

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Media captionWhat do South Carolinians think of the Confederate flag?

Nestled amongst the messages of grief and floral tributes, lies an orange piece of card. "Governor Haley: Take the flag down. It hurts us!" it reads.

The governor has now taken heed of this message, and as people laid flowers and paid their respects at the Emanuel church there were mixed views about the relevance of the flag today.

Every black person I spoke to said the flag had to go, because they feel it's too attached to a time the state was racially segregated, and when slavery was in force.

But the divisions aren't along racial lines. White people described the flag as racist and belonged in a museum, and even those who felt affection for it believed it was causing too much tension to survive. "I think to pacify people it probably should be changed," said one.

A few people didn't buy into those arguments though, telling me the flag is a symbol of southern pride and can't be blamed for the tragedy.

Only the South Carolina's state legislature may remove the flag, according to a deal hatched in 2000 when the flag was moved from the capitol's dome to the memorial where it now stands.

A vote could take place this week and could bring to an end many years of bitter arguing about the prominent location of the flag.

The latest debate over it was prompted by the shooting of nine black worshippers during a bible study group at the church in Charleston.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Governor Nikki Haley said the flag belonged in the past
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A remembrance service for victims was held in the church

The suspect, Dylann Roof, has been pictured holding the Confederate flag.

State leaders have held crisis meetings as they have tried to find a solution but some leading Republicans have called for action.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, has also called for the flag's removal.

Like Ms Haley, he has reversed his position in light of the tragedy.

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Media captionThe first South Carolina politician to call for flag removal explains why

Others, including the Republican House Majority Leader Jay Lucas and Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, have also spoken out.

The shooting has reignited an ongoing national debate over race relations.

President Obama weighed in during a recent interview in which he used the N-word to make a point about racism in the US.

He will deliver a eulogy at the funeral of one of the men killed - Clementa Pinckney, a personal friend of the president, who was state senator and pastor of the church.

Image copyright Getty Images

Birth of a flag

The flag seen today on houses, bumper stickers and T-shirts - sometimes accompanied by the words "If this shirt offends you, you need a history lesson" - is not, and never was, the official national flag of the Confederacy.

The design by William Porcher Miles, who chaired the flag committee, was rejected as the national flag in 1861, overlooked in favour of the Stars and Bars.

It was instead adopted as a square battle flag by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee, the greatest military force of the Confederacy.

It fast became a potent symbol of Confederate nationalism.

Why do people still fly the Confederate flag?