Originally created 04/08/00

Opposition organized by retiree

COLUMBIA -- John Bradley didn't know he got a prominent mention Thursday at the South Carolina Statehouse when about 2,000 people gathered to protest the Confederate flag that flies on the Capitol dome.

The Columbia retiree was busy on the other side of the building, telling flag supporters how he had done what he could to keep it flying.

What he did was organize a band of demonstrators with Confederate flags to stand at points along Charleston Mayor Joe Riley's march from the port city to the Statehouse, intended to urge lawmakers to remove the last traditional Confederate banner left on any Southern state's seat of government.

With only 20 days left in the legislative session, the Senate has put a flag bill on priority status to be debated Wednesday. It is the first time the Legislature has officially considered any of the numerous proposals for removing the flag.

"We'd stand there until Riley's group passed by and drive a couple of miles up the road to meet 'em again," Mr. Bradley said. Sometimes the faces were the same. Sometimes other people joined -- much like the anti-flag demonstration, in which only two people besides Mr. Riley marched the entire 120 miles. "Let me tell you, on (U.S. Highway) 176, there's a lot of Confederate brothers out there. We saw lots of flags and signs out by the road."

The mayor mentioned the pro-flag protesters.

"They were the same group every time," he said. "One of our marchers noticed there was the same dog in the same truck everywhere we saw the demonstrators."

One truck stood out, he said. It bore a huge sign that read, "Heritage, Not Hate," and a bumper sticker: "John Rocker for President." Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker was suspended after remarks in an interview that were considered to be racial and ethnic slurs.

"That is not heritage," Mr. Riley said. "That's hate."

On the march, he had urged people to ignore the opposition. Every time they encountered it, troopers moved in to prevent confrontations.

Last Sunday, the first day of the march, 300 flag supporters waited at Summerville for the Riley march to pass, but it didn't get to the crossroads where the group was gathered. At other times during the week, Mr. Bradley estimated, the group he pulled together numbered as many as 250, usually demonstrating in groups of 50 or so.

Troopers instructed the flag supporters to stay behind the white line at the edge of the highway and not let their banners drape over the road. And once, Mr. Bradley said, "An officer told us we couldn't be there unless we were on private property."

Before stopping again, he made a phone call and lined up six locations on private property farther along the line of march. He also gave the officer's name and badge number to sympathizers in the Legislature.

"Forty-five minutes later, that same officer came up to me and said, `Mr. Bradley, you just go on and operate like you've been operating,"' he said.

While both he and Mr. Riley were speaking on opposite sides of the Capitol grounds Thursday, a small plane circled overhead with a banner that said, "Keep the flag. Dump Riley and Hodges."

Jim Hodges is the Democratic governor who is urging a compromise to get the flag down and end the international spotlight it has focused on South Carolina.

He met the anti-flag march along with former Gov. David Beasley, who lost his bid to re-election partly because he proposed removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol dome.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.


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