Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011
Flag protests bring 1,200 to Statehouse lawn
By John O’ Connor – McClatchy Newspapers
Marchers once again took on the Confederate flag during Monday’s King Day at the Dome rally, but they also spoke out against the 150th anniversary of South Carolina’s secession and legislative proposals to cut state spending on education and pass tougher anti-illegal immigration laws.
The rally, sponsored by the S.C. NAACP, drew more than 1,200 to the Statehouse’s north plaza, where the battle flag flies as part of a Confederate soldier monument. A 2000 legislative compromise moved the flag from the Statehouse dome to the monument, but the NAACP wants the flag removed from the grounds entirely.
The rally’s most heated moment came early, when S.C. NAACP president Lonnie Randolph spoke of a December formal ball in Charleston marking the 150th anniversary of the state’s secession. The celebration was an insult, Randolph said, similar to celebrating the massacre of American Indians at Wounded Knee, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or holding a 9/11 party.
"The NAACP is not going to allow South Carolina to insult them," he said.
The King Day rally, held on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, has served as a way to mark the slain civil rights leader’s legacy, as well as renew efforts to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds and maintain the NAACP’s tourism boycott of the state until the flag is gone.
Claudette Lee, 56, rode to the rally on one of two buses from Detroit, organized by Michigan talk show host Mildred Gaddis. This was Lee’s second year coming to the rally. Those who came with her chanted, "The D is in the house." Lee said she hopes to build support for the rally in her home state to remove the flag here.
"We doubled it," Lee said of the number of buses traveling from the Motor City this year over last. "Hopefully, next year we’ll have more."
State Department of Public Safety director Mark Keel said there was no additional security this year for the rally, which followed the fatal shooting of six at a U.S. representative’s community event in Arizona less than two weeks ago. But Keel said law enforcement officers were more visible this year.
No pro-flag supporters attended the rally.
"We were trying to be as high-profile as we could be," Keel said.
This year’s rally also focused on S.C. efforts to pass an immigration bill modeled after a controversial Arizona law. That law, the constitutionality of which is being challenged in federal court, allows law enforcement officers to stop and check the citizenship documents of suspected illegal immigrants.
Separately, some members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have proposed repealing parts of the 14th Amendment that grant citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
The 14th Amendment, noted Wade Henderson, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights advocate, was ratified, in part, to ensure freed slaves were citizens after the Civil War.
"When you hear people talking about segregating out a group of people," Henderson told the crowd, "you better listen."
At a prayer service before the march, North Carolina NAACP president William Barber gave a 30-minute sermon aimed at inspiring activism.
"Nothing would be more tragic than for us to turn back now," Barber said, referring to the Tea Party’s political gains in November, efforts to repeal the new federal health care law and a court challenge to the Voting Rights Act. Barber finished with a quote King used: "Forward forever, backwards never."
Henderson’s speech made its mark on Michigan’s Lee and others.
"We’re taking that quote, and we’re keeping it in our heart," she said.