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Confederate flags taken down from Alabama capitol

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Four Confederate flags were taken down from the grounds of the Alabama capitol on Wednesday at the order of Gov. Robert Bentley.

Bentley said he issued the order late Tuesday after ensuring he had the authority to have the flags removed. He said it was important to "honor history," but that could be done without flying the flag on the Capitol grounds.

"It has become a distraction all over the country right now," Bentley said. "Off and on, it has always been a distraction."

Four Confederate flags - the first three official flags of the Confederacy and the square-shaped Confederate battle flag - flew at each corner of an 88-foot-tall Alabama Confederate Monument beside the Alabama Capitol.

An Associated Press reporter watched state employees remove three of the flags and fold them and take them inside the Capitol building before 10 a.m. The fourth already had been removed earlier Wednesday.

Two men who said they were members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization arrived shortly afterward to protest. When a group of black men, including the chief of staff for an Alabama Democrat who planned to introduce a resolution calling for the flags' removal, came to see that the flags had been removed, they spoke and shook hands with the flag supporters.

Calls to remove Confederate symbols that dot the Old South reignited after the massacre of nine people at a black church in South Carolina last week. The white suspect, Dylann Roof, posed in photos displaying Confederate flags and burning or desecrating U.S. flags.

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The Confederate flag used to fly over the Alabama Capitol, following a 1963 order from former Gov. George C. Wallace during a fight with the federal government over ending school segregation.

Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, led a fight in the 1990s to remove the rebel banner from the dome. A judge ruled against the state, which appealed. Then-Gov. Jim Folsom in 1993 made a decision that the Confederate flag, which was taken down in 1992 during dome renovations, would not be put back atop the Capitol when those renovations were complete.

Virginia Gov. wants Confederate flag off license plates

Holmes on Tuesday said that he would file a legislative resolution to remove the flags from the Capitol grounds.

"I think most people realize it's divisive," Holmes said on Tuesday. "It has no place on a public building."

CBS News' Omar Villafranca reports, a symbol of slavery and racism to many, the confederate flag has been a source of pride to others. Chuck Bond, with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says the flag represents heritage, not hate.

"It's a flag of honor. It's a flag these men took in to battle," he told CBS News. "It was not a political statement these men were given. These men were giving their lives for their homeland."

Following the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, a bipartisan mix of officials across the country is calling for the removal of Confederate flags and other symbols of the Confederacy from public places.

Here's a look at what's happening and what's being proposed:

Mississippi

Leaders of the Republican-controlled state are divided on whether to alter the Mississippi flag, a corner of which is made up of the Confederate battle flag. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker joined state House Speaker Philip Gunn on Wednesday in saying the emblem is offensive and must be removed. Mississippi voters voted 2-to-1 in 2001 to keep the flag.

CBS News' Omar Villafranca reports Gov. Phil Bryant on the other hand said no.

"The people voted on this flag back in 2001. It was on the ballot, overwhelmingly supported the current flag in the state of Mississippi," he said. "I don't think that we need to to go about and try and supersede the will of the people."

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday that he thinks voters should decide on any changes.

The Commercial Dispatch newspaper in Columbus ran a front-page editorial Tuesday, saying that the state flag should change and that the Confederate symbol "represents a disgusting period of our history." It was accompanied by an image of the flag with a black X drawn over it.

Kentucky

Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that his state of Kentucky must remove a statue of Davis from the state Capitol's rotunda. The statue stands a few paces from that of another native Kentuckian, Abraham Lincoln. McConnell noted that Davis moved to Mississippi, and Kentucky never officially joined the Confederacy. McConnell suggested a better place for the statue would be the Kentucky History Museum.

Republican Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said Tuesday that he now favors removing the statue, as does the Republican nominee for governor, Matt Bevin. Democratic nominee Jack Conway, the state attorney general, said Wednesday that the statute should be moved to a museum. Earlier, he had said he agreed with Haley's call to remove the battle flag but that he would have to think about whether to remove the Davis statue.

Maryland

Gov. Larry Hogan's press secretary says the Republican leader opposes the use of the Confederate flag on the state's license plates.

Erin Montgomery said in an email Tuesday that Hogan's office is working with the department of motor vehicles and the attorney general "to address this issue."

Rep. Mark Sanford talks about Confederate flag fight

North Carolina

A spokesman for Gov. Pat McCrory says the Republican plans to ask the General Assembly to pass a law that would discontinue the use of the Confederate flag on specialty license plates for the Confederate Veterans. Like those in other states, the plate features the group's logo, which has the flag.

Tennessee

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers called for a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and an early leader in the Ku Klux Klan, to be removed from an alcove outside the Senate chambers at the Statehouse. The bust, inscribed with the words "Confederate States Army," has been at the Capitol for decades.

Also, at a Tuesday news conference, Gov. Bill Haslam was asked about the state's Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty license plate, with an image of the Confederate flag in the group's logo. Haslam said he was unaware of the plate but would be in favor of discontinuing it.

Texas

The University of Texas president said Tuesday that the school will establish a panel of students, faculty and alumni to determine what to do with a statue of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis. Student leaders have asked to have it removed from campus. Earlier in the day, vandals sprayed graffiti on the pedestal to the century-old statue. An online petition recently was launched to have it removed and placed in a museum. But Davis' great-great grandson, Bertram Hayes-Davis, says his ancestor was a statesman with a broad list of accomplishments who's being unfairly demonized.

Also in Texas, the Supreme Court ruled last week that the state was within its rights to refuse to issue personalized license plates showing the Confederate flag. The court rejected a free-speech challenge. The Sons of Confederate Veterans had sought a Texas plate bearing its logo with the battle flag. Similar plates are issued by eight other states that were members of the Confederacy and by Maryland. In Virginia, McAuliffe cited this ruling in his call for banning the flag from plates in his state.

Virginia

CBS News' Omar Villafranca reports that in Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe outlawed the flag from license plates. Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee may follow.

McAuliffe said Tuesday that he's asked the state attorney general to take steps to reverse a 2002 federal court decision that said Virginia could not block the Sons of Confederate Veterans from displaying its logo - which includes the Confederate flag - on state license plates.

Washington, D.C.

In the Capitol's Statuary Hall, where each state gets to appoint two statues, Jefferson Davis stands as a representative of Mississippi - among several Confederate figures. The statues are selected by states, and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that rule puts them out of his purview.

Nonetheless, "I think that it would be important that we look at some of the statues that are here," Reid said.