Politics & Government

Confederate flag is gone from S.C. State House but still a visible symbol

The Confederate flag will be a lot closer to those who gather at the State House today for the 10th annual King Day at the Dome march and rally than it was for the first march.

No longer is the flag atop the State House dome, where in 1962 it was raised as a gesture of defiance to those who would contemplate desegregation and racial equality.

Now, the flag flaps on a 30-foot pole near a Confederate monument on the State House grounds. It is more visible, and, for many South Carolinians, it still stands for the things it always stood for — white supremacy and slavery, or Southern heritage and pride.

The flag's current position is due in no small part to the more than 50,000 people who rallied on King Day a decade ago.

They commanded national and international attention. Their presence prodded reluctant lawmakers and the governor of South Carolina to do something, anything, to move ugly images of the state from the top of national newscasts.

"It was clear that it was not going away," former Gov. Jim Hodges said of the issue during a telephone interview last week. "It continued to be a front-burner issue. The rally reinforced that."

The sheer size of the turnout made a point, too.

"The rally reinforced the idea that a broad cross-section of South Carolinians wanted something done about it," said Hodges, a Democrat. "That was something missing before, the public aspect."

Hodges was governor, in part, because of the power of the flag.

His predecessor, Republican David Beasley, had angered some of his supporters by signaling a willingness to consider moving the flag from the State House dome. He then lost a close re-election battle to Hodges.

The success of the 2000 King Day rally opened new fronts in an age-old civil rights struggle. The rally showed the muscle of the NAACP, which played a major role in organizing the event. But its fallout eventually distanced that group from some rally supporters who reluctantly oppose the NAACP's boycott of the state because the Confederate flag continues to fly on State House grounds.

"At a point, when a majority of people don't like where you're going, it seems to make sense to stop and reassess," said Cynthia Hardy, a radio talk show host who helped organize the 2000 rally. "We do have to assess the methods we use to achieve our goals."

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