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VIDEO: S. Carolina removes Confederate flag from state capitol; removal opens door for NCAA championships

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds on Friday to chants of "USA, USA!," after three weeks of emotional debate over the banner, a symbol of slavery and racism to many, but of Southern ...

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Honor guard removes the Confederate battle flag permanently from the South Carolina statehouse grounds during a ceremony in Columbia, S.C., on Friday. REUTERS/Jason Miczek

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds on Friday to chants of "USA, USA!," after three weeks of emotional debate over the banner, a symbol of slavery and racism to many, but of Southern heritage and pride to others.

In a solemn, yet joyful ceremony before a large crowd, an honor guard of white and black state troopers lowered the flag shortly after 9 a.m. before a large crowd and live TV cameras.

The relocation of the flag came a little over three weeks after the racially motivated massacre of nine black worshippers during a Bible study session on June 17 at a landmark black church in Charleston.

The banner's new home will be the "relic room" of the state military museum in Columbia, South Carolina's capital, where the flag will reside with other artifacts carried by Southern Confederate soldiers 150 years ago in the Civil War.

South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley, who pushed for the state legislature to enact a law making it possible to remove the flag, was among those watching its departure from its place just yards from the State House entrance.

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Earlier, she called it a great day for the state in an interview with NBC's "Today" television show.

"I'm thinking of those nine people today," Haley said, referring to the nine men and women gunned down at Charleston's African Methodist Episcopal church.

Also among those watching the flag's lowering was Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who in 2000 led a 120-mile march from his city to Columbia to protest the flag.

"Today, at long last, this has been done," he said in a statement.

The white man charged in the killings, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, appeared in photographs posing with a Confederate flag that surfaced on a website bearing a racist manifesto. The image spurred politicians and leading national retailers to pull the flag from display.

In South Carolina, the first state to secede during the 1861-1865 U.S. Civil War, this week's debate in the state legislature brought an emotional closure to a symbol long divisive in the state.

The Confederate flag waved atop the state capitol from 1961 to 2000, when it was moved to a Confederate war memorial near the State House entrance.

"My heart is overjoyed. I can feel the togetherness," said Tenetha Hall, of Newberry, South Carolina, who said she took a day off work to drive an hour to Columbia to watch the flag come down. "I'm so glad my children and six grandchildren will get to see this history."

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Civil War re-enactor Bobby Dawson stood quietly in gray wool pants and a long-sleeved shirt with the wool coat of the Confederate Army's 101st South Carolina Regiment. He said he had an ancestor who fought on both sides of the Civil War.

"This brings joy to some people, a solemn occasion to others," Dawson said.

NCAA says championship venues affected

South Carolina can host championship-level college sports events after the Confederate battle flag was removed from the grounds of the state capitol on Friday, National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert said.

The state had been barred from hosting NCAA pre-determined post-season competitions while the flag flew at the State House grounds in Columbia.

Calling the flag a "symbol of racism," Emmert said the removal of the banner "now means that South Carolina can bid to host future NCAA championships."

The flag came down about three weeks after the fatal shooting of nine black worshippers by a white gunman during a Bible study session at a black church in Charleston.

"The NCAA strongly supports today's removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House grounds," Emmert said in a statement. "This step sends an important message of respect for and dignity of every person."

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Since 2001, the NCAA has prohibited playing pre-selected championships in states where the flag is flown prominently. Some view the banner as a symbol of slavery, while others consider it an emblem of Southern heritage.

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