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After 150 years, Confederate flag’s days may be numbered

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — 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.

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 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 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.

“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.

South Carolina’s movement to remove the flag made waves in other parts of the country on Monday. Mississippi’s Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said the Confederate flag, which is part of Mississippi’s state flag, “has become a point of offense that needs to be removed.”

The dilemma of what to do with the Confederate battle flag — a symbol of racism to many and of Southern heritage to others — has flustered lawmakers for years.

It was carried into battle for only four years, during the American Civil War. But it has hung on for 150 years in Southern states and has been incorporated into some state flags.

Racist hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations, have appropriated the Confederate battle flag in defiance of the civil rights of African-Americans.

As part of a compromise in 2000, South Carolina lawmakers agreed to remove the Confederate flag from the top of the Capitol dome, where it previously flew, and place it across the street while also adding a monument to African-Americans. But the legislation mandated that only a supermajority of the legislature could change that setup going forward.

Republican state Rep. Doug Brannon has already committed to introducing a bill to remove the flag when the Legislature convenes in January. “I apologize to the people of South Carolina,” he said. “I’ve been in the House for five years. I should have introduced this bill five years ago.”

If legislators fail to act on its removal Tuesday, Haley will call for them to reconvene.

In the meantime, investigators have come across a website with photos of Dylann Roof, who has admitted he was the gunman, holding the Confederate flag and burning and spitting on the American flag.

The site, which is registered to Roof but otherwise does not mention his name, features a 2,000-word racist manifesto that details the writer’s philosophy of white superiority.

“I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country,” the author wrote.

Roof said he was trying to start a race war with his killings. That seems to have backfired. During his court hearing on Friday, loved ones of his victims forgave him through their sobs and told him they were praying for his soul.

Their grief has triggered a national outpouring of sympathy.

On Sunday at the church, at a service to memorialize the nine who were killed, a chair sat empty with a black cloak draped over it. It’s where the Rev. Clementa Pinckney would have been sitting, had the pastor and eight other worshippers not been shot down as they studied the Bible.

President Barack Obama will travel to Charleston on Friday for Pinckney’s funeral, as will Vice President Joe Biden.

Obama will deliver the eulogy at the funeral for Pinckney, who was also a state senator.

Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Charleston; Ben Brumfield wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Holly Yan, Ashley Fantz, Jeff Zeleny, Michelle Kosinski, Martin Savidge, Ralph Ellis, Nia-Malika Henderson and Don Melvin contributed to this report.