New Battle Over Confederate Battle Flag

Friday, June 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Workers put up a new pole Friday on the state Capitol grounds in preparation for removing the Confederate flag from atop the building's dome. But the sequel to the long and bitter fight over the flag is already in the works.

The new pole was put next to a Confederate monument on the Statehouse grounds. It will bear a square Confederate flag enclosed in a black iron fence. The new location is part of a compromise reached in the Legislature in May.

The old flag will come down Saturday, but NAACP and other flag opponents insist they'll continue to boycott the state until no Confederate flag flies anywhere on the Statehouse grounds.

``There is a very strong sentiment among African-Americans that this flag is an offensive symbol, and they understand its connection with bigotry and oppression in America,'' said Dwight James, executive director of the state conference of branches of the NAACP.

Charles Park, who will lead a protest by the Confederate States of America Historical Preservation Society on Saturday, says the flag shows reverence for those who tried to break from a repressive government. ``It's not a racial issue. We're not against black people,'' Park said.

The Confederate flag rose on the Statehouse dome in 1962 to celebrate the Civil War's centennial. Critics say it also was raised in defiance of the civil rights movement. South Carolina is the last state to fly the Confederate flag atop its Statehouse.

Last month, after much debate and several demonstrations, the Legislature voted to remove the flag from the dome and place a similar one at a nearby Confederate soldiers monument.

``As far as we're concerned, it brings finality to the issue,'' said Deb Woolley, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. The state chamber was one of the most influential voices calling for the flag's removal from the dome, but it does not oppose the compromise.

The NAACP has said expanded sanctions could target such things as the state's burgeoning film industry. But finding broad support to continue the fight will be difficult, said Rick Silver, partner in a Columbia public relations firm who helped lead one of several anti-flag organizations that sprang up in the past year.

``Most people just wanted to see some resolution, some change,'' he said. If lawmakers had not found a compromise this year, ``it would have continued to be a divisive, ugly, distracting, harmful issue that would have taken away from everything else.''

For those in industries affected by the boycott, just how the compromise will affect individual business and vacation decisions is unclear.

``We're taking the flag down on July 1,'' said Charlie Way, head of the state's Commerce Department, which houses the Film Office. ``We're going to do our thing the best we possibly can and hope for the best.''

Before the NAACP-organized tourism boycott of the state began Jan. 1, the Southern Conference became the first high-profile sports organization to ask lawmakers to move the flag.

It threatened that it would not award championships to its South Carolina members — the Citadel, College of Charleston, Furman and Wofford — without change. The conference has now decided to hold its soccer playoffs in Charleston.

The NCAA also said it would not award championships or tournaments to South Carolina schools unless the flag came down. In April, the group's executive committee set an Aug. 11 deadline for the flag's removal, but said a month later it was pleased with the state's actions. NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said she was unsure if the flag remains on the executive committee's agenda.

While everyone wasn't completely satisfied with the flag compromise, things ``are better off today than when this whole exercise started,'' Southern Conference commissioner Alfred White said. ``The people of South Carolina are headed in the right direction.''