CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - An activist climbed a flagpole outside the South Carolina state capitol early on Saturday and took down the Confederate flag, state officials said, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama called the banner a symbol of racial oppression.
Two people were arrested and charged with defacing a monument, the South Carolina Department of Public Safety said in a statement. The banner was replaced within an hour, it said.
Brittany Newsome climbed the flag pole and James Ian Tyson stood inside a fence and assisted her, police said. They are both 30 years old and from North Carolina.
Both were released on $3,000 bail and allowed to leave the state ahead of a scheduled July 27 court appearance, local television station WIS reported.
The Civil War-era flag has been a focal point in the United States after the fatal shooting last week of nine African Americans during a Bible study session at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has attended all four of the funerals so far for the victims, on Monday called for the flag’s removal saying that while it was an important part of South Carolina’s past, it “does not represent the future of our great state.”
The suspect in the shootings, Dylann Roof, 21, had posed with a Confederate flag in photos posted on a website that also displayed a racist manifesto.
A group of local activists said they organized the removal of the flag, which by law flies at a memorial on the Statehouse grounds in what supporters of the display says honors soldiers who fought on the side of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the 1860-65 American Civil War.
“We could not sit by and watch the victims of the Charleston Massacre be laid to rest while the inspiration for their deaths continues to fly above their caskets,” an activist group organized under the Twitter tag #KeepItDown said in a statement.
Supporters took to social media under the Twitter tag #FreeBree, and a crowdfunding campaign on website Indiegogo raised about $80,000 in nine hours for the protesters’ bail and legal defense.
At a funeral for the slain Emanuel church pastor in Charleston on Friday, Obama called the banner “a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation”.
The South Carolina Legislature is expected to begin debate next week on removing the flag from the memorial.
Reporting by David Adams in Charleston, Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Laila Kearney in New York; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Digby Lidstone and Franklin Paul