WASHINGTON - Walmart announced Monday it has decided to remove Confederate flag merchandise from its stores as a debate rages around the banner seen by many as a symbol of racial violence in the wake of a deadly attack on a black church.
The move by the world's largest retailer came on the heels of a call by the governor of South Carolina for the contentious Civil War battle flag to be removed from its state house grounds.
The Confederate flag is seen as a symbol of racial violence and oppression by many, while some white southerners romanticize it as a link to the Old South.
Civil rights activists have long pushed for it to be removed from official use, and the debate around it has returned to the spotlight since last week's massacre in Charleston, which left nine people dead at the hands of an alleged white supremcist.
"We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer," Walmart spokesman Brian Nick said in a statement.
"We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment - whether in our stores or on our web site.
"We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell. Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly - this is one of those instances," he added.
Earlier Monday South Carolina's Republican Governor Nikki Haley led bipartisan calls for the removal of the flag from the grounds of the state capitol after the Charleston shooting.
A website apparently created by accused gunman Dylann Roof, 21, includes a manifesto embracing white supremacy and photographs of him holding a Confederate flag and a handgun.
Roof has been charged with nine murders over the June 17 shooting rampage at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston during a Bible study class.
His arrest warrant revealed how he allegedly shot the six women and three men, aged 26 through 87, multiple times with a high-caliber handgun and then stood over a survivor to make a "racially inflammatory" statement.