NAACP to step up S. Carolina protests

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (BNW) -- Civil rights activists will begin picketing border crossings into South Carolina this month, a new wave of protests aimed at removing the Confederate battle flag from the state's capitol complex, NAACP officials said Sunday.
On July 1, 2000, officials removed the flag from atop of the statehouse dome and re-raised on the complex's lawn -- the result of a compromise reached by the state legislature after a six-month economic boycott of the state led by the NAACP.

But many civil rights activists continue to oppose flying the Confederate emblem, which they associate with slavery and discrimination, on state grounds. Those in favor of keeping the flag say it symbolizes their southern heritage, not racism.

The NAACP will hold a rally in South Carolina's capital of Columbia on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, to formally announce its plan to action.

In the next 30 days, NAACP members will set up "informational pickets" on Interstate highways just inside the South Carolina border, said Dwight James, the executive director of the organization's South Carolina chapter.

The NAACP will also staff information booths at rest stops and start a billboard campaign, James said.

The state highway patrol said it was aware of the group's plans but would not comment on how it would respond to the roadside picketing.

The state NAACP launched its boycott in January 2000 when the Confederate battle flag flew atop the statehouse dome along with the state's palmetto flag and the U.S. flag.

The Confederate flag was first raised over the Capitol in the early 1960s during the centennial of the Civil War.

By April 2000, a spokesman for the state's tourism board estimated the boycott had cost South Carolina $20 million in tourist revenues.

The next month, the legislature passed a compromise bill and the Confederate battle flag was moved that summer.

But the NAACP said the legislation -- and the flag -- did not go far enough, with James then calling it an "offensive symbol" associated with "bigotry and oppression."

On Sunday, James said now was the "appropriate point" to step up the boycott and press lawmakers to take additional action. The South Carolina NAACP is one of several Southern chapters to launch campaigns aimed at the Confederate battle flag.

In June 2001, Mississippi voters decided by a nearly 2-to-1 margin Tuesday that the state should retain its 107-year-old flag emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner.

Earlier that year, the Georgia Legislature removed the Confederate battle emblem from its prominent place on the state flag -- reducing it to one of five small representations of historical banners at the bottom of a new flag featuring the state seal.

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