UPDATE, June 22, 2015: The petition to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house grounds topped 500,000 signatures on Monday, up from over 100,000 on Friday. 

Original story begins here: 

A petition seeking to remove the Confederate flag from the area of the South Carolina State House had more than 350,000 signatures Saturday as people continue to react to the massacre of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston Wednesday. The suspect charged in the case, Dylann Roof, 21, is an avowed white supremacist who allegedly committed the murders in an attempt to spark a race war.

“In his manifesto, [Roof] says he abhors the American flag because it no longer applies to him,” Karen Hunter, an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, told International Business Times Saturday. “For people to say this [Confederate] flag has nothing to do with it is to totally ignore the very reason why he went into that church that night.”

Hunter created the online petition at the liberal website MoveOn.org Thursday, calling the Confederate flag a “symbol of rebellion and racism.” Within 24 hours, it had more than 100,000 signatures, and it was averaging almost 7,000 signups an hour Saturday. The petition eventually will be sent to South Carolina’s House of Representatives, Senate and Gov. Nikki Haley.

Wednesday’s tragedy may be the catalyst to get South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the state house grounds in Columbia. In 2000, the flag was moved from atop the building after 38 years, but remains nearby on public ground. 

The Confederate flag is one of the most potent symbols in American society.

Some white Americans believe the Confederate flag honors the Southern dead in the U.S. Civil War and that it represents state’s rights versus federal rights. The so-called Stars and Bars can be seen decorating cars, flying in front of homes and on the Mississippi state flag.

Most black Americans -- and others -- think the Confederate flag is an in-your-face reminder of the country’s past sins targeting African-Americans, especially slavery and segregation. That the flag is frequently embraced by openly racist Americans doesn’t help those, like U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who defend putting the flag on public grounds funded by taxpayers, including African-American ones.

“I think it’s disgusting that it takes the death of nine people to get people to mobilize to get that flag taken down,” said John Sims, an artist in Sarasota, Florida, who organized a series of Confederate flag burnings and burials on Memorial Day, including poetry readings, to raise awareness of the issue.

Sims said he’s organizing nationwide Confederate flag burnings and burials on Independence Day in response to the shooting. These symbolic funerals of the flag are aimed at bringing closure to this symbol. “It’s very important in the African-American community and the wider community, and in the creative community, that we resist these symbols,” he said.

Hunter said the Confederate flag issue has nothing to do with attacking Southern culture.

“I’m all for Southern pride,” she said. “My family and most blacks have Southern roots. ... If we call ourselves Americans and we care about the future of this country, why not take down symbols that divide us?”