Gov. Robert Bentley quietly ordered the removal of four Confederate flags from a memorial at the Alabama State Capitol on Wednesday amid a growing national controversy over their official display.

The flags — three national banners used by the Confederacy and the battle flag most closely connected to it — had been removed by 10 a.m. Bentley, who had maintained silence on the issue for days, did not announce the decision prior to the flags being furled.

“The governor does not want the flag to be a distraction,” said Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for the governor. “There are a lot of other things we are focused on. We have a tremendous budget issue.”

A Confederate flag will also be removed from the Old House Chamber in the State Capitol, used for the State of the State address and ceremonial bill signings.

“It became obvious that the presence of the flag in that historic chamber would become a distraction during the upcoming special session, possibly lead to protracted debate, and avert our attention from the special session’s main goal,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said in a statement. “By taking the proactive action of removing the flag, the Legislature can move forward in several different ways.”

Official displays of the Confederate flag have been called into question since nine people, all black, were killed in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. last week. Online photos of the accused shooter, who is white, show him wearing or posing with symbols of white supremacy, including the Confederate battle flag.

The flags had flown at the Alabama Confederate Monument since 1994, a year after then-Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. ordered the removal of a battle flag that had flown over the state Capitol since 1963. A judge had earlier ruled in a lawsuit brought by black legislators that only the U.S. flag and the state flag could fly there.



Mike Williams, adjutant for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the state of Alabama, protests the removal of four confederate flags from the capitol grounds in Montgomery, Ala, on Wednesday June 24, 2015. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser)