South Carolina Flag Comes Down: Confederate Flag Removed After 54 Years As Crowds Cheer

Nathan Francis

The Confederate flag has come down in South Carolina, with cheering crowds gathered to watch the flag removed after flying on state grounds for more than 50 years.

The flag was removed Friday morning in front of thousands of people who gathered to see it taken down. While some were upset to see the Confederate flag removed, most were there to see what they saw as a symbol of racism removed forever.

The move comes a little more than three weeks after the June 17 massacre of nine black churchgoers who had gathered in Charleston for a Bible study meeting. The dead included state Senator Clementa Pickney.

The suspect in the massacre, 19-year-old Dylann Roof, had been photographed with the Confederate flag and is accused of carrying out the shootings in an attempt to spark a race war.

The South Carolina flag was removed by two state Troopers, who handed it to a black officer, who then brought it to a state archivist. Many in the crowd chanted and cheered when the flag was finally removed.

"It feels so good to be out here and be happy about it," said Ronald D. Barton, a 52-year-old pastor, told the Associated Press.

The flag had a long and controversial history in South Carolina, as NBC News documented. It was first raised in 1962 above the South Carolina State House as a protest to the civil rights movement and has been opposed by many groups in the more than 50 years that followed. While some tried to claim that it was a symbol of pride in southern heritage, other groups saw it as a symbol of continued racism.

In 2000, lawmakers agreed to move it to a flagpole outside Capitol grounds, with the state Legislature having sole power to raise it.

But even many defenders of the Confederate flag backed off in the wake of the Charleston shooting, as Roof made it clear that he was using the flag as a form of racial protest. Proceedings to remove the flag moved through relatively quickly, with support from both sides of the aisle once the agreement was in place.

While the South Carolina flag was removed from the state house, it will still be on display. In crafting a deal to have the Confederate flag removed, state officials agreed to have it sent to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, where it will eventually be on display as part of a multi-million dollar exhibit.

[Picture by Win McNamee/Getty Images]