South Carolina's leaders first flew the battle flag over the Capitol dome in 1961 to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. It remained there to represent official opposition to the civil rights movement.
Decades later, mass protests against the flag by those who said it was a symbol of racism and white supremacism led to a compromise in 2000 with lawmakers, who insisted that it symbolized Southern heritage and states' rights. The two sides came to an agreement to move the flag from the dome to a 30-foot pole next to a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse.
Thousands of people showed up for the transfer in 2000. Flag supporters shouted, "Off the dome and in your face!" at protesters who wanted the flag gone, with a line of police in special gear separating the two sides. A pair of Citadel cadets, one white and one black, lowered the flag from the dome as a dozen Confederate re-enactors marched to the brand new flagpole and raised the rebel banner.
The matter was largely thought settled, but the massacre of Pinckney and eight others inside Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church gave it new urgency. Haley signed the bill with 13 pens. Nine of them went to the families of the victims.
Authorities say they believe the killings were racially motivated. By posing with the Confederate battle flag before the shootings, suspect Dylann Roof, who has not yet entered a plea to nine counts of murder, convinced some that the flag's reputation for white supremacism and racial oppression trumped its symbolism of Southern heritage and ancestral pride.
"People say he was wrapped in hate, that he was a hateful person," said Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg. "Well, his hate was wrapped in the cloak of that Confederate flag. That is why that flag is coming down."
Supporters of the flag were disappointed but resigned.
"It's just like the conclusion of the war itself," said Rep. Mike Pitts, who submitted several amendments to fly a different flag on the pole — all of which failed. "The issue was settled, and the nation came back together to move on."
States across the nation are moving on without their Confederate symbols. The rebel flag is gone from the Alabama Capitol, and the U.S. House voted that it may no longer fly at historic federal cemeteries in the Deep South.
A city council committee in Memphis wants to move a statue and the remains of Confederate hero and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest out of a prominent park, and officials in Alaska want a new moniker for a U.S. census district named for Confederate Gen. Wade Hampton.
At the bill signing Thursday, Haley said the removal of symbols that have become divisive is the right thing to do for the family members of those killed at Emanuel AME.
"We saw the families show the world what true grace and forgiveness look like," she said. "That set off an action of compassion by people in South Carolina and all over this country. They stopped looking at their differences and started looking at their similarities."
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press