CHARLESTON, South Carolina (REUTERS) - South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is expected to call on Monday for the Confederate battle flag to be taken down from the state capitol grounds, five days after a white gunman allegedly shot dead nine black worshippers at a historic Charleston church.
The move comes on a day when religious and elected leaders called on state lawmakers to remove the rallying symbol of the pro-slavery South during the US Civil War. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged with Wednesday's attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, had posted a racist manifesto on the Internet and posed with the flag.
Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, was expected to address the issue at a briefing, a South Carolina state representative and a second Republican source said. US Senator and Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham is expected to join her in calling for the removal of the flag at the briefing.
"It is my understanding that at four o'clock today the governor is going to call for the removal of the Confederate flag," Republican state Representative Doug Brannon said in a phone interview.
"It's coming down this summer," said Brannon, who added that he had drafted legislation ordering the flag's removal from the State House grounds.
Officials at Haley's office did not respond to calls asking about the topic of her scheduled remarks.
Opponents of flying the flag at the statehouse consider it an emblem of slavery that has become a rallying symbol for racism and xenophobia in the United States. Supporters say it is a symbol of the South's history and culture.
A group of both black and white leaders called for a rally Tuesday at the State House in Columbia to bring their demand directly to lawmakers.
"The time has come to remove this symbol of hate and division from our state capitol," said Reverend Nelson Rivers, pastor of the Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, South Carolina. "Remove this symbol of divisiveness and even terrorism to some," said Rivers, who is black and works with the National Action Network civil-rights group.
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 after sitting with them for an hour on Wednesday night.
The attack, in a year in which the United States has been rocked by protests over police killings of unarmed black men, has inflamed a national debate on race relations, policing and the criminal justice system.
President Barack Obama weighed in on the Charleston massacre in a podcast posted online on Monday, saying the killings showed the United States still had a long way to go in addressing racism, using an epithet to make his point.
"We're not cured of it," Obama told Mark 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."
The Confederate flag became a point of contention the morning after the attack on "Mother Emanuel" church, with activists noting that it continued to fly at full-staff even after Haley had ordered other flags at the capitol to half-staff, in a sign of mourning.
It quickly became an issue in the 2016 White House race, with several Republican candidates taking pains to avoid directly answering questions on the matter.
"The Confederate battle flag years and years ago was appropriated as a symbol of hate," said Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, who is white. "It is a piece of history and it belongs in a history museum."
The calls for a Tuesday rally came in North Charleston, South Carolina, where a former police officer was charged with murdering a black civilian by shooting him in the back after he fled a traffic stop, in an incident captured on video on a bystander's phone.
Several speakers said the flag's presence at the state's capitol sent an unappealing message about South Carolina to the rest of the world.
"Ridding the flag from the front of the State House is a start," said state Senator Marlon Kimpson, who is black. "But let me underscore this: It will not solve the racial divide in South Carolina."
Outside the Mother Emanuel church, visitors continued to stop to remember the slain, among them Melvin Wright, 42, who said he supported the call to remove the flag.
"It symbolises hatred to me," said Wright, a Charleston native.