After decades of debate and mounting pressure from an NAACP boycott, South Carolina finally removed the Confederate flag from atop its Statehouse on Saturday in a somber ceremony that paid tribute to its Civil War roots.
The flag, seen as a reminder of slavery for some and a tribute to Southern heritage for others, flew atop the Statehouse dome for 38 years.
But protests over the flag continued even as it was being lowered: Civil War reenactors raised another Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds, in front of a Confederate soldiers' monument.
The new location was part of the compromise reached by the Legislature in May.
Hundreds of anti-Confederate flag demonstrators held bright yellow signs reading "Shame" and blew whistles as the flag was hoisted atop the flagpole.
"We're blowing the whistle on racism," said Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network.
The crowd on hand for the ceremony swelled to 3,000 at one point, authorities said. Many were flag supporters, including state Sen. Bill Branton.
He called the compromise "the biggest mistake we've ever made in this General Assembly." He vowed to lead efforts to put the flag back on the dome.
Flag supporters gathered in the street in front of the Capitol, chanting, "Off the dome and in your face!" as some of the hundreds of police officers kept the two factions from throwing more than words. One person was arrested for assault.
South Carolina was the last state to fly the Confederate flag from its Capitol dome. Raised over the Statehouse in 1962, many thought the flag was a symbol of Southern heritage.
Others said it was a defiant sign against blacks and the civil rights movement.
On Saturday, two Citadel cadets--one white, one black--removed the flag. The cadets from the Citadel--a training academy that contributed soldiers to the long gray line that fired on Ft. Sumter to start the Civil War--lowered the flag and turned it over to Gov. Jim Hodges. The governor handed it over to a representative of the South Carolina State Museum.
As the flag came down, 12 Confederate war reenactors marched to a fenced area that was guarded by dozens of police.
As the flag rose on a 30-foot bronze pole, some in the crowd cheered.
Flag opponents, notably the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, say the flag is too visible in its new location, behind a 38-foot-tall Confederate soldier monument at the most prominent approach to the Statehouse at the foot of Columbia's North Main Street.
The NAACP's tourism boycott against the state is credited with creating the public pressure that led lawmakers to agree to remove the flag in May. On Saturday, the NAACP and 750 of its supporters silently marched past the Statehouse before the flag ceremonies. State NAACP President James Gallman said the flag's new position is a "moral lynching." Gallman said the NAACP will continue its boycott.