COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) â€” The dispute over the Confederate flag flying over the Statehouse has exposed a generation gap in the ranks of South Carolina's civil rights leaders.
Some veterans of the struggles of the 1960s support a deal under which the flag would be moved to a less conspicuous spot on the Statehouse grounds. But a younger generation of blacks wants the flag removed altogether and says the older leaders are too willing to compromise.
``The flag has become a very emotional, symbolic issue,'' particularly for younger blacks, said Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group once headed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. ``It has taken the place of the back of the bus.''
The state Senate agreed April 13 to lower the flag as long as it is raised again above a monument to Confederate war dead on the Statehouse grounds. The House could vote as early as next week.
But many newer civil rights leaders and the NAACP say the appropriate place for the flag is a museum. Proposals to move the flag to a less-visible monument, include it in a circle of flags or encase it in glass at a monument have all run into opposition.
``The flag promotes the Confederacy's existence and white supremacy,'' said Kevin Gray, 43, who heads the Read Street Freedom House Project in Columbia. ``Placing the flag on the Statehouse grounds is simply a slap in the face.''
Gray said the NAACP's tourism boycott of South Carolina, which officially began Jan. 1, should continue until the flag is out of sight.
``Older black legislators are tired of the fight or believe they need to work in the spirit of comity and civility, that they need to bend over backward for their white colleagues,'' he said.
But Sen. Robert Ford, a black Democrat who grew up in the shadow of Jim Crow laws, said it is unrealistic to think the flag would be removed from the Statehouse entirely, because the state was the birthplace of the Confederacy.
The ``whippersnappers don't know what's going on and don't care,'' said Sen. Kay Patterson, 69, a black Democrat who has fought to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse since he was elected to the House in 1975.
House Minority Leader Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a 48-year-old Democrat who is among the most prominent in the new wave of black leaders in the House, shrugs off Patterson's whippersnapper remark.
Some black legislators' leadership style ``is go-along, get-along, as opposed to some whose style is less of a willingness to settle. That one word, settle, describes the difference,'' Cobb-Hunter said.
But Lowery worries that younger lawmakers may be reaching for the flag as a rallying point when they should be embracing more important economic issues.
Fighting for government contracts and opening job advancement opportunities, ``is not as emotional and visible as the flag. It's not glamorous like a lunch counter,'' Lowery said.
A recent telephone poll showed 56 percent of South Carolinians questioned favored the Senate plan, and support was as high as 60 percent among blacks. The poll by KRD Communications Research for three TV stations was conducted April 28-30 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Similar divides have appeared in Alabama and Georgia, where the Confederate symbol that is part of the state flag is generating controversy again.
Alabama Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery was arrested 27 times during civil rights fights, but he said that kind of in-your-face activism is less necessary now that blacks have legislative power.
``Many young people don't understand the sacrifices made to get them where they are today,'' Holmes said.
Georgia Rep. Tyrone Brooks of Atlanta, who joined King's staff when he was in his early 20s, sees the difference between young and old, militant and moderate, in a group of about 750 elected black officials he leads.
``You have to respect that young energy,'' Brooks said. ``You have to respect those young ideas.''