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Controversial Flag Returns to S.C. Statehouse

(CN) - A year after the Confederate battle flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse grounds in the wake of a horrific, race-based mass murder in Charleston, the controversial symbol briefly returned Sunday in a ceremony held by the state's Secessionist Party.

Given last week's race-related shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, St. Paul, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas, tensions were high before and during the afternoon event.

Those who supported the raising of the flag and an equal number who viewed it as a symbol of hatred and division were kept apart by metal barriers erected on the front lawn of the statehouse, and police helicopters circled overheard as uniformed officers moved through both crowds to keep the peace.

The Confederate battle flag flew again outside the South Carolina Statehouse on Sunday — temporarily — during a rally that drew both supporters in Civil War garb and bullhorn-toting protesters.

It was exactly a year ago Sunday that the Confederate flag that had flown for years beside the Confederate Soldiers Monument was lowered by an honor guard, folded and sent to a nearby museum.

The removal of the flag long a hot-button issued in the state came after a white man from Lexington. South Carolina, Dylann Roof, shot and killed nine inside an historically black church in Charleston.

The accused gunman faces both federal and state death penalty trials in the fall, but has said he will plead guilty to the crimes if the death penalty is taken off the table. So far, neither state nor federal prosecutors have shown any inclination to do so.

A year later, the Confederate Soldiers Monument remains, but the 30-foot pole the flag once flew on has been dismantled. On Sunday, members of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, some of them dressed as a Confederate honor guard, hoisted a battle flag on a portable pole in the same spot.

As they did so, about 200 people cheered, many of them bursting into an apparently spontaneous singing of "Dixie."

On the periphery of the event, several people booed.

Afterwards, the Secessionist Party took to Facebook to call the flag-raising "an absolute success."

"Today's First Annual Flag Raising could not have gone better," the group said. "We want to express our deepest gratitude to those who attended. You made your ancestors proud and we know they smiled down on you today."

"For those who did not remain until the flag was lowered, you missed a sign from the above today. When the flag was lowered it began to rain, as if our ancestors began to cry from heaven," the party said.

The removal of the original Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds jump started efforts to remove the flag and other Confederate symbols from places of honor throughout the south. Despite the widespread shelving of the flag, efforts to consign the relics to history remain controversial.

Just this weekend, Kentucky's state curator said a citizens group is seeking a special military designation for a statue of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis, displayed in Kentucky's Capitol Rotunda.

The Friends of the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site told The Lexington Herald-Leader it wants the statue to remain where it's been for decades. The paper said that placing the statue on the Military Heritage Commission's list of military sites and objects would likely make it more difficult to ever relocate it.

The state curator, Leslie Nigels, said the proposal requires further study.

Photo caption:

Supporters of the Confederate flag raise it on a temporary flagpole on the grounds of the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., at a rally on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Counter-protesters showed up but the event was peaceful. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard) (The Associated Press)

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