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A Day To Remember As Confederate Flag Comes Down

It took less than five minutes to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol, a symbol that’s been fought over for 54 years. It happened on the same day the FBI admitted the alleged shooter in the Charleston church killings should not have been permitted to buy a gun.

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Flag-removal ceremony a family event for many, WFAE's Duncan McFadyen reports.

The flag ceremony was due to begin at 10 a.m. It ran a little late and some in the crowd grew restless, changing “it’s 10 o’clock, it’s 10 o’clock.”

Regina Brittangham was watching it all.

“It’s just good to see everybody of all race, religion, come together. And that makes you feel good,” she said.

Brittangham was there with four generations of her family to witness something they’d long hoped would happen. Not far away stood Joy Jackson draped in a Confederate flag. Jackson said her grandfather was injured fighting for the Confederacy.

“I don not think it should be taken down. It wasn’t about slavery to begin with. It should not come down. The least I can do is wear the flag to represent my grandfather.”

At 10:05  a.m., both Jackson and Brittangham watched as seven members of the South Carolina Highway Patrol Honor Guard silently marched to the foot of the state capitol building. They ceremonially lowered the Confederate flag, folded it and marched it away to be placed in a nearby museum.

And then another chant began.

“USA! USA! USA!”

And that was it. No speeches, no politicians, no bands. But the simple ceremony belies the importance of the event, says Lacey Ford.

“I think it’s a very big deal. It’s been a contested issue for virtually my entire lifetime as a native South Carolinian,” said Ford, who teaches history at the University of South Carolina.

He too watched the furling of the Confederate battle flag, and the flurry of political activity in the past few weeks that made it possible.

“The modern flying of the Confederate flag on the capitol dome began in 1961 with the commemoration of the Civil War centennial in South Carolina. And I believe the intent was the flag would be up there for the four-year centennial and then be taken down. But we all know that’s not the way it ended up.”

That’s because the Civil War centennial coincided with the Civil Rights Movement. Ford says opponents of the movement rallied behind the Confederate flag.

Then, last month, another fan of the flag walked into an African-American church in Charleston and gunned down nine black parishioners. Professor Ford says the shootings broke the state’s heart. But when families of some of the victims forgave the shooter, he says that galvanized the state to move forward.

“You have to sort of push the fringe aside, pull the center together and find common ground with as many people as you can. And I think if South Carolina does that, it can better address some of the issues that is has like equality of opportunity in education and accessibility and affordability of health care.”

Ford says there are bigger issues than the flag. Removing it is an important symbol, but he says it doesn’t end racism.

“I would not go so far to say that we’re beyond it or past it. Or that it won’t claim its victims in the future. And that unfairness and inequality won’t continue to exist and have to be struggled against. But I do think it testifies to a different state of affairs in South Carolina.”

He says the Confederate flag no longer flying in front of the Statehouse is an important marker of changes in the state. Others agree, which is why an hour after the ceremony, some were still singing.