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UPDATE: Confederate flag to be removed from South Carolina Capitol Friday

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UPDATE:  COLUMBIA, SC (AP) - More than 50 years after South Carolina raised a Confederate flag at its Statehouse to protest the civil rights movement, the rebel banner will be removed Friday in a state where such a reversal seemed unthinkable a month ago.

The flag will be pulled down from the Capitol's front lawn and the flagpole it flies on during a ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday, said Chaney Adams, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. Then, the banner will be shipped to the Confederate Relic Room for display.

Haley will sign the bill — which passed the state House early Thursday after 13 hours of debate — at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Statehouse lobby. The measure requires that the flag come down within 24 hours of her signature.

After the House's 93-27 vote, there were hugs, tears and high fives in the chamber. Members snapped selfies and pumped their fists. But even among the celebrations, there was sadness.

After the Civil War, the flag was first flown over the dome of South Carolina's Capitol in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the war. It stayed as a protest to the civil rights movement, only moving in 2000 from the dome to its current location.

The push that would bring down the Confederate flag for good only started after nine black churchgoers, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, were gunned down during Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17. Police said the white gunman's motivation was racial hatred. Then three days later, photos surfaced of the suspect, Dylann Roof, holding Confederate flags.

"I am 44 years old. I never thought I'd see this moment. I stand with people who never thought they would see this as well," said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, who called the victims martyrs. "It's emotional for us not just because it came down, but why it came down."

Republican Rep. Rick Quinn, whose amendment appeared it might at least delay the flag's removal for several hours, was happy too after getting a promise that lawmakers would find money for a special display at the Relic Room for the Confederate flag that was about to be removed as well as the one that flew over the Statehouse dome in 2000 when a compromise was passed to move the rebel banner to its current location.

"It was done in a way that was a win to everyone," said Quinn, who voted for the bill.

The back-to-back votes came around 1 a.m. Thursday after more than 13 hours of passionate and contentious debate.

As House members deliberated well into the night, there were tears of anger and shared memories of Civil War ancestors. Black Democrats, frustrated at being asked to show grace to Civil War soldiers as the debate wore on, warned that the state was embarrassing itself.

Changing the Senate bill could have meant taking weeks or even months to remove the flag, perhaps blunting momentum that has grown since the church massacre.

Republican Rep. Jenny Horne reminded her colleagues she was a descendent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and scolded fellow members of her party for stalling the debate with dozens of amendments.

She cried as she remembered Pinckney's funeral and his widow, who was hiding with one of their daughters in a church office as the gunman fired dozens of shots.

"For the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury and I will not be a part of it!" she screamed into a microphone.

She said later during a break she didn't intend to speak but got frustrated with fellow Republicans.

Opponents of removing the flag talked about grandparents who passed down family treasures and lamented that the flag had been "hijacked" or "abducted" by racists.

Rep. Mike Pitts, who remembered playing with a Confederate ancestor's cavalry sword while growing up, said that for him the flag is a reminder of how dirt-poor Southern farmers fought Yankees not because they hated blacks or supported slavery, but because their land was being invaded.

Those soldiers should be respected just as soldiers who fought in the Middle East or Afghanistan, he said, recalling his own military service. Pitts then turned to a lawmaker he called a dear friend, recalling how his black colleague nearly died in Vietnam.

Black lawmakers told their own stories of ancestors. Rep. Joe Neal talked about tracing his family back to four brothers, brought to America in chains to be bought by a slave owner named Neal who changed their last names and pulled them apart from their families.

"The whole world is asking, is South Carolina really going to change, or will it hold to an ugly tradition of prejudice and discrimination and hide behind heritage as an excuse for it," Neal said.

Other Democrats suggested any delay would let Ku Klux Klan members planning a rally July 18 a chance to dance around the Confederate flag.

Instead, Democrats were using a line Gov. Haley often says, calling it "a great day in South Carolina."

The governor issued her own statement. "It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and on," she said.


PREVIOUS STORY: (AP) - South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley says she will sign the bill removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse dome at 4:00pm Thursday.

Haley's office didn't immediately say when the flag would be removed, but the bill requires it to happen within 24 hours of her signature.

Moments after Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster ratified the bill, Haley made the announcement that she would sign it in the Statehouse lobby that afternoon. The bill passed the state House at 1 a.m. Thursday.

The Confederate flag has flown over the Statehouse for 54 years since being put up as a protest of the Civil Rights movement.

Haley and other conservatives didn't begin a push to remove the flag until nine black churchgoers were killed in a church shooting in Charleston by a gunman who police say was motivated by racial hatred.


PREVIOUS STORY: By RICHIE DUCHON, NBC News

(NBC News) - The South Carolina House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly early Thursday to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds, just weeks after the fatal shootings of nine black church members reignited the flag debate.

The final vote of 94-20 after some 13 hours of debate is a stunning turn for the state that was the first to leave the Union and the site of the first battle of the Civil War. The Confederate flag was raised at its Statehouse to protest the civil rights movement more than 50 years ago.

"South Carolina can remove the stain from our lives," said 64-year-old Rep. Joe Neal, a black Democrat first elected in 1992. "I never thought in my lifetime I would see this."

The effort to remove the flag from the grounds gained new momentum following last month's massacre of nine black people at the historic Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. Alleged shooter Dylann Roof, 21, featured the Confederate flag prominently in photos on a white supremacist website.

"We, out of tragedy, have created some degree of triumph," said Rep. Todd Rutherford.

The state House passed the Senate version of the bill, approved Tuesday and written to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Capitol. The bill will now go to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. She supports the measure.

Haley praised the vote as a "a new day" in South Carolina. In a Facebook post, Haley called it "a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state."

The bill requires the flag be taken down within 24 hours of Haley's pen hitting the paper. It will be shipped to the Confederate Relic Room.

Republican State Rep. Mike Pitts, who opposes removing the flag, filed dozens of amendments Wednesday that would have delayed passage of the House's bill. "I grew up with that flag, the current flag, being almost a symbol of reverence, because of my family's service in that war," Pitts told NBC News. "It was not a racial issue."

But Republican Rep. Jenny Horne gave an impassioned and tearful speech on Wednesday night blasting her fellow Republicans for stalling.

Fighting back tears, Horne —who described herself as a descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis— recalled the funeral of murdered state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel A.M.E. who was gunned down while his wife and daughter locked themselves in an office.

"I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday. And if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday," Horne cried on the state House floor. "For the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury and I will not be a part of it."

After the Civil War, the flag was first flown over the dome of South Carolina's Capitol in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the war. It stayed as a protest to the Civil Rights movement, only moving in 2000 from the dome to its current location.

"South Carolina can remove the stain from our lives," said 64-year-old Rep. Joe Neal, a black Democrat first elected in 1992. "I never thought in my lifetime I would see this."

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