UPDATE: Cheers erupted as the Confederate battle flag was removed Friday from the South Carolina Capitol, ending a decades-long fight that was reignited after the murders of nine members of a historically black Charleston church.

"Take it down! Take it down!" the crowd chanted as an honor guard from the South Carolina Highway Patrol marched toward the flag pole.

In a quick, dignified ceremony, two honor guard members reeled the flag down and folded it. Onlookers took photos and sang, while others yelled, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"

Throngs of people had gathered ahead of the flag being taken down. Lawmakers and relatives of the victims of the church massacre stood on the steps of the Statehouse to watch, many with tears in their eyes.

The historic moment came after intense pressure on lawmakers to respond to the June 17 massacre, in which an avowed racist, Dylann Roof, allegedly opened fire on a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Church. The killing sparked a nationwide debate about the flag, and led many companies to stop manufacturing or selling items with its image. Among those calling for the lowering of the flag over the South Carolina State House was Gov. Nikki Haley.

An emblem of Civil War and Southern pride, the flag is also widely viewed as a symbol of racism. It was first raised above the South Carolina State House in Columbia to protest the civil rights movement in 1962. Since then, opponents of have been campaigning to take it down. In a 2000 compromise, the flag was moved to a flagpole on the Capitol grounds, and the state legislature was given the sole power to lower it.

The state House of Representatives voted early Thursday to take the flag down, and Haley later in the day signed that measure into law.

The flag is expected to end up in the nearby Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.