06/22/2015 18:22 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 01:12 EDT

After 150 years and one mass-shooting, S.C. governor wants Confederate flag gone

WASHINGTON - History may ultimately bestow the most unexpected legacy upon a racist gunman who attacked a black church allegedly in the hope of igniting a race war.It's unlikely the impact the hate-filled accused mass-murderer had in mind back when he was posing for pictures with segregationist symbols, including the flag of the old Confederate South.But now, as Dylann Roof sits in a jail cell, charged with killing nine churchgoers, he might struggle to come to terms with the fact that he may turn out to be the man who finally got the "stars and bars" pulled down in South Carolina.The state governor announced her support Monday for removing the old Civil War symbol from the grounds of the state capitol in what could signal a definitive shift in the years-long debate over the Confederate flag.Nikki Haley said she would recall the state legislature if lawmakers failed to deal with it over the summer. As she did so, she was applauded by a crowd around her that included high-ranking Republicans from the state and national level."The murderer now locked up in Charleston said he hoped his actions would start a race war," Haley told a news conference. "We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening."Haley added: "It's time to move the flag from the capitol grounds ... 150 years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come."The issue has flared sporadically in the state and rippled into the national arena by virtue of South Carolina's make-or-break status as the state that almost always chooses the Republican presidential nominee.In the last election, a woman was booed by a Republican crowd for asking candidate Newt Gingrich whether he'd remove it.In 2000, George W. Bush avoided the issue, while his wife Laura defended the flag as a piece of history, saying it wasn't inherently racist.Bush's vanquished rival John McCain later admitted his shame in declining to take a stand on the issue. ''I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary," McCain admitted soon after his defeat. "So I chose to compromise my principles.''The debate raged back then over whether to pull it down from atop the legislature. A key compromise was hatched by David Wilkins, the man who went on to become ambassador to Canada: he brokered a deal to take it down, but hoist it back up on state property nearby.And that's where it stands now.That symbol endures as a long-running fault line in America's political history. What most people now refer to as the Confederate flag was actually a battle flag during the Civil War, with the official flag of the secessionist states including that red-blue symbol in its top left-hand corner.Its defenders describe it as a symbol of southern culture — and of resistance to federal power.Its detractors see that as an excuse covering an ugly truth: that it's inextricably linked to a racist history. As evidence, they point out that slavery was a main issue that drove the confederacy; that, after the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan and anti-integrationist forces appropriated the flag as a symbol; and that in 1961 it was erected above the South Carolina legislature while the state was fighting the Kennedy administration on segregation.The modern-day resonance of the debate echoed the day after the killings: the Supreme Court rejected a request from a pro-Confederate group to force Texas to become the 10th state to allow that symbol on custom license plates.The timing of the ruling revived the discussion.Some Republican presidential candidates struggled to find a middle ground, calling it an issue for the state to decide. Mike Huckabee defended South Carolina, noting that mainly white voters there had elected an Indian-American governor, Haley, and an African-American senator: "I still feel like it's not an issue for a person running for president," he said of the flag.But the party's 2012 nominee reiterated his long-standing position.Mitt Romney called it a symbol of racial hatred to many people, and urged its removal to honour the Charleston victims. That prompted a laudatory tweet from his old rival, Barack Obama.The president said: "Good point, Mitt."