Confederate flag South Carolina Virginia
South Carolina state flag flying at half staff to in the aftermath of the Charleston murdersReuters

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has said that he wants to remove the controversial Confederate flag from the state's licence plates.

McAuliffe said the Confederate Battle Flag has been the subject of "considerable controversy, and it divides many of our people".

"Even its display on state issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people," he said.

The news comes after a 21-year-old white man, Dylann Roof, shot dead nine church-goers at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. He told police he wanted to "start a race war". Roof's alleged manifesto was found online with pictures of him holding the flag.

Following the massacre, pressure has mounted on South Carolina leaders to pull down a Confederate battle flag that has flown on the statehouse grounds for more than 50 years. Charleston mayor Joe Riley said the presence of the flag "sends mixed messages" and that the symbol of secession by pro-slavery states should be declassed "to its appropriate historical context".

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley also called for the flag to be removed.

"We are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it's time to remove the flag from the capitol grounds," she said on a public speech. "One hundred and fifty years after the end of the civil war, the time has come."

The Virginia governor echoed Haley's words and said he asked Attorney General Mark R Gerring and his transportation secretary Aubrey Lane to start the process of reversing a prior court ruling that stated the plates are private speech. Virginia and Maryland are under court order to offer speciality plates for the Sons of Confederate Veterans featuring the flag insignia.

However, the Supreme Court recently ruled that Texas is free to remove the confederate emblem from the licence plates, contradicting prior court rulings in Virginia. "Accordingly, I have directed the following actions to remove the Confederate emblem from state-issued licence plates," McAuliffe said.

Walmart, the retail giant, also announced it would no longer sell merchandise featuring the flag.