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Protesters to chant 'Take it down' as legislators meet over flag

Ben Brumfield and Catherine E. Shoichet | 6/23/2015, 2 p.m.
The battle may at last be over for the Confederate battle flag.
The Confederate battle flag flies near the South Carolina State Capitol building in Columbia. (Photo: CNN)

— The battle may at last be over for the Confederate battle flag.

Just over 150 years after the Civil War ended, and less than a week after the massacre of innocents in a Charleston church by a man who venerates the flag, voices from all parts of the political spectrum are rising in unison to say the flag must no longer fly over public buildings.

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Where the Confederate flag is still seen

Despite outrage over the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, the Confederate battle flag can still be found displayed across the country.

To too many, it symbolizes not heritage but hate. To too large a segment of the population, it is, quite simply, offensive. And, while it has fluttered for years in the warm Southern breezes atop many state Capitol buildings in the the former Confederacy, its time, it appears, has come and gone.

At lightning speed this week, state legislators and chief executives took giant steps to remove it from public view.

The state Legislature in South Carolina plans to debate removing the flag Tuesday, a day after the governor urged lawmakers to remove it from the statehouse grounds.

In Mississippi -- the only state that still includes the Confederate battle flag as part of its state flag -- an influential conservative leader said it was time to change that.

And Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, says it will no longer sell products with that emblem.

The echoing words: 'Take it down'

The growing national sentiment could be summed up in three words that will echo in the ears of South Carolina lawmakers when they convene on Tuesday: "Take it down."

Prominent conservatives from Mitt Romney to Jeb Bush to South Carolina's two U.S. senators and its governor, Nikki Haley, are calling for the traditionally red state to furl the flag that flies on Capitol property and display it instead in a museum.

After the racist massacre last week of nine black worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, significant political support for keeping the Civil War relic appears to have ebbed away.

At 11 a.m. on Tuesday, two hours before legislators meet, protesters will gather in front of the State House, as they did over the weekend, to chant the phrase again: "Take it down; take it down."

Haley will ask lawmakers to heed that call.

United they stand

The cry has united traditionally liberal NAACP leaders with conservative white Republicans, all disgusted by the killings and some newly sensitized to the insult that the flag from the final days of slavery carries for black people and many other Americans.

"Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to remove the flag from our Capitol grounds," Haley said Monday.

The thought was shared by NAACP leader Rev. Nelson B. Rivers.

"The time has come for the General Assembly to do what it ought to have done a long time ago, which is to remove this symbol of division and even of terrorism to some," he said.

Rivers said the flag symbolizes the worst of South Carolina's history. Removing it would honor those killed at Emanuel AME.