State Sons of Confederate Veterans leaders say the group’s civil rights have been violated and it will take action.

Don Gordon, the S.C. division chairman for Heritage Defense of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and other leaders spoke from the Darlington County Courthouse grounds Tuesday, flanked by close to 30 uniformed members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans from several Pee Dee counties.

Gordon said S.C. Central Railroad’s decision to have a billboard removed June 16 that was placed on U.S. 52, across from Darlington Raceway, amounted to discrimination.

The sign sported a checkered flag and a Confederate flag and promoted defense of Southern heritage. It also encouraged membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and displayed a toll-free telephone number.

"We have come full circle in the South," said Gordon, likening the removal of the billboard to a decades-old custom that required black people who rode public transportation buses to sit in the back seats.

Gordon accused the railroad company that owned the property where the sign was placed of not respecting equal rights for all, being unfair and lacking diversity.

Randall Burbage, S.C. division commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, also said the group’s civil rights had been violated by the sign removal. He said the move by S.C. Central Railroad has prompted the Sons of Confederate Veterans to implement a plan.

"We want to get the message out," he said. "We will begin running (minute-long) radio commercials on Aug. 14. They will run from 4:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. It is a time where we will get maximum exposure."

Burbage said the Sons of Confederate Veterans also bought another billboard, similar to the one that was removed. It’s located on Interstate 95 at mile marker 151 near Florence.

Burbage also said the Sons of Confederate Veterans is starting a speakers program to inform others about the violation of civil rights he said was committed by the railroad.

Aside from the actions Burbage announced Tuesday, he said in a letter sent to Sons of Confederate Veterans members that the group has an attorney "studying the possibilities of legal action" for violation of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ First Amendment right to free speech.

According to an Associated Press report, S.C. Central Railroad issued a statement that said it was not in its "commercial interests to have billboards on our property displaying messages that might be controversial in the local community, whatever the substance of the messages."

S.C. Central Railroad officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

© 2006 Media General, Inc

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