COLUMBIA, S.C. - Hundreds of people chanting "Take it down!" rallied on Tuesday to demand that the Confederate battle flag be removed from the South Carolina State House grounds, galvanized by last week's massacre of nine blacks at a historic church in Charleston.
The Civil War-era flag of the pro-slavery Confederacy, which unlike other flags was not flown at half-staff after the attack, has become a lightning rod for outrage over the killings at the nearly 200-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the racist motives that apparently lay behind the shooting.
As the 'Stars and Bars' fluttered only yards away, a crowd of about 1,000 chanted "Take it down! Take it down!" while speakers offered prayers in memory of State Senator Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor, who was among the victims and who was a longtime advocate of the flag's removal. President Barack Obama will attend his funeral on Friday.
Federal authorities are investigating as a hate crime the attack by accused gunman Dylann Roof, a 21-year-white man, who had posed with a Confederate flag in photos posted online.
South Carolina lawmakers plan to introduce a resolution to begin debate over the issue Tuesday, a day after Republican Governor Nikki Haley threw her support behind the drive to take down the flag, scorned by many as a symbol of the South's racist history.
Tuesday's rally, led by civil rights organizations, was held in the state capital of Columbia, about 120 miles (190 km) from Charleston.