South Carolina lawmakers agreed on Thursday to banish the Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse, a move meant to foster a reconciliation after last month's shooting massacre at a black church.
In a pre-dawn vote following a full day of debate on Wednesday, the state's house of representatives agreed overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate battle flag, which for decades has had a place of prominence in front of the legislature building.
The measure was passed by a resounding 94 in favor and 20 against -- far more than the two-thirds vote needed for final approval.
The same bill cleared the state Senate on Monday by a vote of 37 to three.
It now goes to the desk of South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who had made an ardent plea to lawmakers to approve the measure following the June 17 massacre of nine African Americans at an evening prayer service.
Dylann Roof, 21, a suspected white supremacist charged with the killings, has been seen in online photographs flaunting the Confederate flag.
Haley, in a posting on her Facebook page, praised lawmakers for voting to remove the divisive banner from the grounds of the state capital building -- a move which just a few short weeks ago would have been unthinkable.
"Today, as the Senate did before them, the house of representatives has served the State of South Carolina and her people with great dignity," Haley wrote.
"I'm grateful for their service and their compassion. It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state."
News reports said Haley could lower the flag before the end of the week.
The vote came after a full day of heated debate Wednesday in the South Carolina House, as lawmakers opposed to removing the flag introduced a raft of amendments to slow down passage of the measure.
Backers said the vote marks the beginning of a new era in South Carolina and elsewhere in the South.
"It's been a long time coming but I always felt this day would come," tweeted James Clyburn, a longtime member of the US House from South Carolina, who is African American.
"I look forward to Gov Haley expeditiously signing this bill and finally removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the Statehouse grounds."
Officials said once removed, the flag will be taken to a museum where it will be displayed as an artifact of Southern history.
Symbol of heritage or hate?
There have been calls for many years urging the removal of the banner, but they were rekindled after the June 17 mass murder of nine blacks at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston.
For 15 years, the flag has flown alongside a Confederate memorial on the manicured lawn of the Republican-dominated legislature in the southern state where the Civil War erupted in 1861.
But many see the Civil War banner -- which has been adopted by extremist groups -- as a symbol of hate and racism.
The banner, which came down after the South's defeat in the Civil War, was re-erected at the Statehouse more than 50 years ago to protest the civil rights movement.
Supporters insist, however, that it is simply a symbol of Southern pride and heritage, and for years have strongly opposed its removal.
Following last month's shooting, the Confederate flag has already come down outside the Alabama state legislature and several major retailers across the United States have said they will no longer sell it.