Scuffles broke out in the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse after members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) conducted a rally in protest against a decision to remove the United States Confederate flag from the grounds.
About 100 members of the KKK and other white supremacist groups were met by around 400 African-American activists and their supporters outside the Columbia statehouse on Saturday.
The state last week removed the flag from the capital grounds where it has flown for more than a half-century, after a gunman who took pictures of himself draped in the flag shot nine black churchgoers.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from the statehouse, said there were a number of minor skirmishes, a rock was thrown and a Confederate flag was snatched from a KKK supporter and ripped up, before police escorted the KKK members to buses.
Our correspondent said the KKK wanted to send a message about freedom of speech.
“They were loud, they were vocal, they wanted to make sure that their heritage was recognised, that their history can’t be swept away,” he said.
But the counter protesters made the point “that they are not welcome here, it’s 2015 and the days of the KKK and their allies have passed,” he added.
The banner, which went up on the State House grounds 54 years ago at the height of the US civil rights movement, was removed on July 10, 23 days after nine black worshippers were gunned down inside Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Authorities have said they believe the killings were racially motivated.
By posing with the Confederate flag before the shootings, suspect Dylann Storm Roof, who has not yet entered a plea to nine counts of murder, convinced some that the flag’s reputation for white supremacy and racial oppression had trumped its symbolism of Southern heritage and ancestral pride.
President Barack Obama described taking down the Confederate flag as “a sign of good will and healing and a meaningful step toward a better future”.