South Carolina's governor has called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the State House grounds in the wake of last week's killings of nine black churchgoers.

The 21-year-old white man charged over the attack in Charleston had appeared in photos waving Confederate flags and desecrating US flags, and purportedly wrote of fomenting racial violence.

"The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war. We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening," Governor Nikki Haley said on Monday, as she urged lawmakers to take down the flag.

"My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move our state forward in harmony, and we can honour the nine blessed souls who are now in Heaven," Haley said.

The flag that has flown at the State House grounds in Columbia for the past half century became a fresh focus of criticism in recent days after the Charleston church attack, which federal authorities are investigating as a hate crime and an act of terrorism by accused gunman Dylann Roof.

The Confederate flag was flown by troops supporting the pro-slavery, secessionist Southern states during the 1861-65 American Civil War.

Racism debate

Haley called on lawmakers, whose normal legislative year wraps up this week, to address the issue over the summer and said she would order a special session if they did not.

The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church came in a year of intense debate over US race relations following the killings of unarmed black men by police officers, which has sparked a reinvigorated civil rights movement under the "Black Lives Matter" banner.


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Those who support the flag, flying it at their homes, wearing it on clothing and putting it on bumper stickers, see it is a symbol of the South's history and culture, as well as a memorial to the Civil War casualties. 

"But it is also the flag that was flown by the Ku Klux Klan to terrorise blacks who live in the South. Some see it as a symbol of racism, hatred and slavery and all things that are wrong with the Deep South," Al Jazeera's Del Walters, reporting from Charleston, said.

Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Church honours its dead

The debate is not a new one for South Carolina, which raised the flag over the State House in the early 1960s and moved it to its current location, on a lower flagpole on the capital grounds in 2000, a compromise at a time when some were calling for it to be retired.

Roof was arrested on Thursday and charged with nine counts of murder for allegedly gunning down members of a Bible study group at the "Mother Emanuel" church. He is the apparent author of an online racist manifesto.

President Barack Obama in a podcast posted online on Monday, said the killings showed the United States still had a long way to go in addressing racism.

"We're not cured of it," Obama told Marc Maron, host of the "WTF" podcast. "And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say 'nigger' in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists."

Obama will attend Friday's funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator and pastor of the historic church, who was one of the nine people killed on Wednesday.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies