COLUMBIA, SC – In the 10 days since a young white supremacist walked into a historically black church in South Carolina and killed nine people, the sight of the Confederate battle flag flying on the grounds of the state Capitol has been unbearable for many.
But for a brief time around dawn Saturday, it wasn’t there.
An activist, who calls herself Bree, took it down herself around 6:30 a.m., the Black Lives Matter movement said in a statement. Video shows her climbing the flagpole on the State House grounds in Columbia just after sunrise, as a number of people look on from the ground.
Andy Stepanian with Fitzgibbon Media, a company that’s doing public relations work pro bono for Black Lives Matter, told CNN that Bree was arrested and the flag was taken away from her.
The woman was charged with defacing a monument, as was a man who was standing inside the wrought-iron fence enclosure, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety.
The flag was replaced an hour later, a spokeswoman for the department said.
The incident is yet another moment in the furor over the Confederate banner on the State House grounds — and the larger issue of its place, anywhere, in American society 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
South Carolina lawmakers raised the universally known Confederate emblem over the State House in 1961, ostensibly to honor the 100th anniversary of the start of that war. The civil rights movement was also in full swing at this time, as was many white Southerners’ resistance to it.
For nearly 40 years the universally known Confederate emblem flew under the U.S. and state flag and above the seat of government, until 2000, when it was moved to a flagpole next to a soldiers’ monument, and its position there has since been protected by state law.
That move, though, didn’t satisfy activists who maintained that the flag’s display on the grounds amounted to tacit state endorsement of white supremacy.
Still, there was no evident movement to change its location before Dylann Roof walked into Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church the night of June 17, sat for about an hour with a group gathered for a Bible study, then began shooting. When asked to stop, the gunman replied — according to Sylvia Johnson, who talked to a survivor — “‘No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country … I have to do what I have to do.'”
All nine of his victims were African-American, including the pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was a state senator.
Roof’s motivations became even clearer after his arrest the next day in North Carolina. A website surfaced showing a racist manifesto and 60 photos of Roof, some of them showing him waving Confederate flags while armed as well as burning an American flag.
This further spurred politicians around the South to reexamine the placement of the Confederate flags on everything from government property to state-issued license plates.
This includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who on Monday called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds. State legislators resoundingly voted to allow debate on a bill that would allow this to happen.
But until such a bill passed, the flag continued to fly — except at dawn Saturday.
In the Black Lives Matter statement, Bree explained her actions, saying, “we can’t wait any longer.”
“We can’t continue like this another day,” Bree said. “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”
By Greg Botelho
CNN’s Carma Hassan contributed to this report.