The Confederate battle flag is removed from the Capitol grounds in South Carolina. Gone but not forgotten. (John Bazemore/AP)

I thought Friday’s removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds would be anticlimactic. And that a ceremony to take it down was unnecessary.

In the weeks since the Emanuel AME Church massacre, the appropriateness of the flag, which had flown since the civil rights movement, and the larger role of Confederate images nationally has been a matter of intense debate.

It’s a debate that often feels inappropriate.

Each time someone says that flag honors Southern heritage, we slip further into decay.

Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The Allies won World War II. Those are facts. They are not for debate.

I don’t feel like George Washington was the country’s first president — it’s fact. The Civil War was fought over matters of historical record. They were articulated in writings from leaders at the time and put forth in the declarations of secession.

There are two sides to this debate only in so much that some Americans have been allowed to lie to themselves and others have enabled them with the soft bigotry of low expectations. Have allowed them to cling to their fictions, and grow them bigger. And because as a body politic, we haven’t mustered enough give-a-damn to have it any different.

I watched the flag lowering on television against the backdrop of debates in Virginia, Texas, Georgia and Mississippi, with fresh insights hard to come by.

More than a thousand gathered not so much to witness history, it seemed, but to interact with it. They chanted “Bring it down!” and “U.S.A.” as an honor guard moved with precision and solemnity toward the flag.

What a formal ceremony for such a vinegar- and spit-filled symbol, I thought. But that’s not surprising. Notions of Southern gallantry were often at odds with the small-minded cruelties of racial inequality.

I was cynical as the guards pivoted. Lowering the flag does nothing to stop education, economic and housing inequities. It won’t stop a single bullet.

Then the flag came down, to victorious chants of “nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey, hey, goodbye” with the honor guard still moving precisely . . . and I was unexpectedly moved.

Earlier, the granddaughter of one of the church victims talked about the importance of love. And Gov. Nikki Haley (R) told NBC’s “Today” that no one should drive by the statehouse and “feel like they don’t belong.”

My thoughts came to me in hashtags: Lovewins, again. Blackfeelingsmatter.

That flag was low-hanging fruit, but it was low-hanging fruit that had eluded our grasp, and in that moment the nation caught hold of its symbols, and perhaps its right mind.

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who says he hadn’t felt emotional since the funerals a few weeks ago, felt “relief” when the flag was lowered. In 1987, after writing an op-ed against the flag, “the reaction was such that I couldn’t believe it. For the last five years I worked in state government I had police protection.”

He wishes his mother had seen the flag come down. “She is the one who told me to never give up on issues and how things were going to change.”

He’s glad others did, such as former state senator Kay Patterson (D), who, for years, beginning in the 1970s, was the only voice in the South Carolina legislature calling for the flag’s removal. On the House floor Thursday, where it seemed the Civil War was being refought, Clyburn pointed out that the battle flag was never an official flag of the Confederacy. That Robert E. Lee refused to be buried in his Confederate uniform.

“It is important to point out to people that you are, in fact, celebrating a myth,” Clyburn said.

Friday morning, the Confederate battle flag was lowered with what I now believe is the right amount of ceremony and spectacle it takes to dispel a 150-year-old myth.

For more by O’Neal, visit wapo.st/lonnae.