Originally created 01/03/01

Group will renew its flag protest



AIKEN - A movement to banish the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds blew through Aiken on Tuesday as a precursor to the NAACP rally in the state's capital later this month.

During a brief stop to stir support for "A Day of Dignity," NAACP Executive Director Dwight James said the issue is far from over, despite the Legislature's decision last summer to move the flag.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which wanted the banner off the Statehouse dome, will rally Jan. 15 to protest where it was put instead - in front of the Capitol.

"This is an issue that will not just go away. Giving our approval to fly the Confederate battle flag in front of the state Capitol says to legislators and the general public that it is all right to treat us with disrespect," Mr. James said.

"So our call for economic sanctions must continue until the flag of slavery, the flag of terror and shame no longer flies in a place of sovereignty on the Statehouse grounds."

The NAACP protest is on what would have been the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 72nd birthday, which for the first time is being recognized as an official state holiday in South Carolina.

"We call for an end to the practice of flying the Confederate battle flag at the Statehouse," Mr. James said. "In doing so, we seek to end the practice of racism in the General Assembly."

As opposing factions prepare their strategies for another square-off, Langley Republican Rep. Roland Smith called the controversy a "dead issue."

A week from now, the Legislature that voted last summer to take down the flag from the Statehouse and put it by a monument to Southern soldiers will reconvene for another session. When it does, members of the South Carolina Council of Conservative Citizens will meet them with signs that say, "Put it back on the dome."

Organizers are calling "Greet the Legislators" day "the most important event since July 1," when the last Confederate flag to fly over a Southern capitol was lowered at noon.

Mr. Smith is one of the House members who voted to keep the flag flying where it had been for 38 years. And if confronted next week by people who want it returned, he might just tell them that the issue probably won't be considered this session.

"It's over," he said. "The general feeling is that we don't want to deal with it anymore."

There isn't significant support to resurrect the debate or prolong it, Mr. Smith said.

"When we took the vote, that was finality as far as the General Assembly was concerned."

Among the issues that Mr. Smith says will replace another explosive debate over the Confederate banner are operating a state-run lottery; redrawing political boundary lines for House, Senate and congressional districts; and paring more than $500 million from the next state budget.

Local lawmakers said they expect several bills to be filed concerning the flag, "but none of them will fly," said Rep. Charles Sharpe, R-Wagener.

"We fought that battle last year," he said.

There also is speculation that someone might introduce legislation that would lower the American flag from the Statehouse dome in retaliation.

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.

Protest plans

  • A Southern heritage group, Save Our Flag, will rally at the Statehouse on Saturday to protest the lowering of the Confederate banner.
  • The South Carolina Council of Conservative Citizens will carry signs that say, "Put it back on the dome" and greet legislators Tuesday when they return to session. Participants will gather from 8 to 11 a.m. at the garage entrance on Assembly Street.
  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which wanted the flag off the dome, will rally Jan. 15 to protest where it was put instead - in front of the Capitol. Protesters will meet at 9 a.m. at Finlay Park in Columbia. Call (888) 291-2576.