COLUMBIA, SC – It took just a few minutes, simultaneously somber and festive, to put a bookend on the Confederate flag’s 54-year run at the South Carolina Capitol grounds.
A crowd of hundreds erupted in cheers, and sang a farewell refrain more associated with sports arenas, as uniformed highway patrol officers lowered the flag from a pole next to a soldiers’ monument shortly after 10 a.m. ET Friday.
“Hey, hey, hey, goodbye!” the voices sang.
It was a move stemming from years of deep-rooted controversy over the banner that gained steam after last month’s massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston.
“Finally we can breathe, we can sigh, we can cheer,” said former state Rep. Bakari Sellers, one of the onlookers. “This is why Rosa sat and Martin marched, so that we can have events like this.”
Hundreds encircled the monument to witness a flag-lowering ceremony that was both choreographed and quick. The patrol officers handed the flag to one of the state’s two black Cabinet-level officials, Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith.
In a fate decided by lawmakers this week after hours of passionate debate, the flag was taken to a state military museum about a mile down the road, where it will be exhibited.
Obama: ‘A signal of good will and healing’
The removal comes only a day after the state legislature passed a bill ordering it, buoyed by arguments that a flag that some see as a symbol of support for of racism and white supremacy couldn’t remain on the Capitol grounds after the Charleston massacre.
President Barack Obama celebrated the move on Twitter:
“South Carolina taking down the confederate flag – a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future,” his post read.
Many were jubilant at Friday’s ceremony, chanting “USA!” and singing the refrain from “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
“It’s a beautiful day in South Carolina,” said Liliinn Hemingway, a black woman who attended the ceremony with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter.
A white man from Greenwood, South Carolina, held a U.S. flag as he looked on. He said it was time for the Confederate flag to come down.
“I have respect for the people that honor that as their heritage, but it’s been used in other ways,” the man, who didn’t give his name, told CNN. “It’s symbolic of a lot of things that are negative and a lot of things that are part of the dark part of our country’s history.”