Confederate flag removed from dome of S.C. Statehouse

Opponents criticize banner's new location at prominent monument

July 02, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Competing noises of joy and derision rang out for nearly a half-hour as the Confederate flag came down from the Capitol dome yesterday and a state version of the banner was raised in front of the Statehouse.

About 3,000 people watched - far fewer than the thousands promised by protesters in the days leading up to yesterday's event.

The official ceremonies took eight minutes.

As the old flag was taken down by two Citadel cadets, one black and one white, a Civil War re-enactment group of 12 soldiers hoisted the new one.

The re-enactors marched to the new flagpole behind the Confederate Soldiers Monument to the beat of two drums and accompanied by uniformed officers from the Bureau of Protective Services, the capitol police.

Hundreds of loud whistles sounded nonstop, a call by opponents of the flag to "blow the whistle on racism." Flag supporters gave Rebel yells during the ceremonies.

Earlier, about 750 members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People marched to the Capitol dressed in white and then, turning their backs on the building, knelt and prayed.

The NAACP called a tourism boycott against the state last year, saying the flag should be taken down. South Carolina was the last state of the old Confederacy to fly the banner on its capitol.

After a grueling battle over the issue in the General Assembly, a compromise agreement was reached that removes the flag and puts the S.C. Infantry Battle Flag, a square version with the blue cross with white stars against a red field, on the dome.

The NAACP is not satisfied, saying the old flag is even more visible in its new location behind the Confederate Soldiers Monument in front of the Statehouse.

The organization says the tourism boycott will continue until the flag is off the Capitol grounds. Flag supporters rallied their troops yesterday for a campaign to have the banner put back on the dome.

Few legislators attended the events. State Rep. Jake Knotts, an ardent flag supporter who voted for the final version of the compromise, said more should have come.

"An event of this magnitude, there should have been more participation," he said.

"This was not a show, it was a ceremony that went with dignity and respect," Knotts said. "If there is a healing process, South Carolina now has a chance to start the healing process."

State Sen. Robert Ford, a black supporter of the compromise who suffered chants of "Shame on Ford" as he watched the ceremony, asked where the chanters were 30 years ago when he went to jail for protesting against the Confederate flag.

He said he hopes the extremes on both sides will calm down in a few days, and after that, "I think it's the start of racial tolerance in South Carolina."

State Sen. Glenn McConnell, a flag supporter who helped craft the compromise, came to the ceremony after saying earlier in the week he was hesitating because of threats to turn it into a protest scene.

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