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S.C. legislators okay move for rebel flag

Ending months of fierce debate, the South Carolina Legislature approved a compromise plan Thursday to take the Confederate flag down from the State House dome and move it to a monument on the grounds.

The bill goes to Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges, who said he would sign it. The flag will come down July 1, and Hodges promised a proper ceremony to mark the lowering and the removal of the flag from the House and Senate chambers, where it also hangs.

"I hope this represents the last battle of the Civil War," said Democratic state Sen. Dick Elliott.

South Carolina is the only state that still flies the flag, with its blue cross with white stars on a red background, above its capitol.

It was hoisted in 1962 to commemorate the Civil War centennial, though critics say it was a gesture of defiance toward the civil rights movement. In 1995, the Legislature gave itself sole power to take the flag down.

The agreement that passed Thursday came after months of debate, marches and demonstrations that attracted thousands of flag supporters and opponents to the State House. Supporters say the flag is an important part of the state's heritage; opponents say it represents slavery and racism.

The controversy is far from over. The NAACP opposes moving the flag to a monument on State House grounds, which it contends is still too prominent a place, and has said it will continue its 5-month-old tourism boycott of the state.

"The governor and the Legislature have taken a political position. The NAACP has a principled position," said Kweisi Mfume, president of the the civil rights group. "To take it from the top of the dome where you had to strain to see it, and move it to a place where anyone coming down the main street will see it is an insult."

The bill was not expected to reach Hodges' office until Tuesday. As for the NAACP boycott, Hodges said: "Well, I think that's going to fizzle."

The compromise plan would move the flag to a 30-foot flagpole at a monument to Confederate war dead on the State House grounds. The monument flag would be a square version of the rectangular flag that now flies above the dome.

But nothing about the compromise was easy. Earlier in the day, the House overwhelmingly rejected a Senate plan for a 25-foot flagpole at the monument, insisting on a more prominent 30-foot pole. A conference committee eventually settled on the taller pole, breaking the impasse.

The Republican-controlled House approved the final version 66-43 and the Democrat-controlled Senate followed a few minutes later, 37-8.