46,000 march in S.C. to protest Confederate flag
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Decrying the Confederate flag as a symbol of slavery and racism, about 46,000 people marched to South Carolina’s Statehouse on Martin Luther King Day to demand the banner be taken down.
They also said the slain civil rights leader should be honored with a permanent state holiday. South Carolina state workers now can take off on the King holiday or another of their choice, including one of several tied to Confederate anniversaries.
”The flag is coming down today,” marchers sang as they walked six blocks from a downtown church to the Statehouse. Some carried signs reading, ”Your heritage is my slavery.”
Across the country Monday, Americans remembered King with marches and speeches urging the nation to commit itself to his principles and fulfill his dream of racial harmony and equality.
This was the first year that the King holiday was observed in some form in all 50 states, and the 15th year it has been celebrated as a national holiday.
In Atlanta, Vice President Al Gore joined King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and other family members in placing two wreaths at King’s grave. King, who was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968, would have been 71 Saturday.
”Today, nearly 32 years after we lost him, we still need Martin Luther King Jr. more than ever,” Gore said from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King served as pastor during the civil rights movement.
”’We shall overcome’ needs to be more than just a look into our past, but a way to find the resolve to find the true America we know we can be at last.”
President Clinton helped paint a community computer center in Washington. ”Every time you give a little, you always get more back,” Clinton said. ”Let’s remember that as Dr. King’s enduring legacy.”
Among the celebrations elsewhere:
– Operation Hope, a community group in New Orleans, honored King by offering $50 for guns, no questions asked. The group said the weapons would be turned over to police to be destroyed.
– Several hundred people of many different races marched in Rochester, Minn., where the Rev. Jesse Jackson was the featured speaker. Seven-year-old Naava Johnson, at the march with her grandmother, said that if King had never been born, ”We’d still be slaves.”
– Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber was cast as President Kennedy in a play about King’s life at Willamette University. Frank Thompson, assistant director of the Oregon Corrections Department, got the role of King.
– Several hundred people marched through downtown Memphis to Claiborne Temple, where King held strategy meetings while leading a sanitation workers’ strike in his final days.
– About 100,000 people watched a King parade in Liberty City, a Miami neighborhood. The event featured 50 floats, five bands and local government leaders.
– Attorney General Janet Reno addressed a diverse crowd in the old courthouse in St. Louis where the infamous Dred Scott case was tried. She said Americans should reach out to people in need – such as the more than 2 million inmates who will be released from prisons over the next five years.
”I’m just here to work on my bigotry,” Bob Powers said as he left the courthouse. ”Even when you think you’ve got rid of it, there’s always a little bigotry left.”
Not everyone used the occasion to celebrate King. In Oneonta, Ala., a group blocked from flying the Confederate flag at the courthouse brought its own pole and did it anyway, to honor Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday, which is Wednesday.
”Everybody wants to talk about Martin Luther King, and we’re tired of it. We want them to talk about our hero,” said Benjamin Hestley, commander of the 38-member St. Clair Camp 308 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
At the South Carolina rally against the flag, state police estimated the crowd at 46,000 people.
Frederick C. James, a retired African Methodist Episcopal bishop, said he was reminded of marching with King in Washington.
”We were just about as sure in 1963 that we were going to be victorious with the civil rights law, which was enacted in 1964, as we are now that this flag will come down off of that Statehouse,” he said.
A few white marchers joined the mostly black crowd.
Margaret Abbott, 59, wore her grandmother’s Daughters of Confederate Veterans certificate around her neck. She said her ancestors fought in the Civil and Revolutionary wars so she could have freedom of choice, and she wants the flag removed.
”We have a lot more important things to do than fight over this stupid flag,” she said.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is waging a tourism boycott against South Carolina over the flag. Many marchers from out of state honored the boycott by sleeping Sunday night on cots in church basements instead of checking into hotels.
”This is the kind of thing we need to be doing on Martin Luther King’s birthday,” Martin Luther King III, King’s son, said at a prayer breakfast. ”The flag is a terrible symbol that brings a lot of negative energy. And while we believe the flag has an appropriate place, it just does not belong on top of the Capitol because it is not a sign of unification.”
South Carolina raised the flag in 1962 during the Civil War centennial, and it flies atop the Statehouse along with the U.S. and state flags.
Supporters say the banner is a symbol of the state’s heritage and honors Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War. More than 6,000 flag supporters marched a week ago at the Statehouse.
Only South Carolina’s Legislature can lower the flag.
While South Carolina is the only state still flying the flag from its Capitol, Georgia incorporated the symbol into its state flag in 1956.
Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition now wants tourists to boycott Georgia until the emblem is removed. Activists are threatening to begin the boycott on Jan. 30, the day the Super Bowl will be held in Atlanta.