SOUTH CAROLINA: Protesters Fly Confederate flag at NCAA Event

GREENVILLE, S.C. — A small group of protesters flew a large Confederate flag from the top of a parking garage next to a South Carolina arena hosting two men’s NCAA Tournament games.

The group arrived Sunday morning, raising the flag from the back of a pickup truck . They planned to stay throughout the games and be on grounds as fans arrived at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

Basketball fans look out as a Confederate flag flies from a parking deck outside the arena before a second-round game of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C., Sunday, March 19, 2017. A small group of protesters flew a large Confederate flag from the top of a parking garage next to the arena hosting two men's NCAA Tournament games. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Basketball fans look out as a Confederate flag flies from a parking deck outside the arena before a second-round game of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C., Sunday, March 19, 2017. A small group of protesters flew a large Confederate flag from the top of a parking garage next to the arena hosting two men’s NCAA Tournament games. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Greenville police had the group move the truck about 50 feet away, citing safety concerns if the flag tipped.

Protesters said they wanted to make their presence known to the NCAA. The governing body lifted its ban against South Carolina holding championships in 2015.

By the early afternoon there were about a dozen protesters, many carrying Confederate flags, across the street from the arena’s main entrance.

NCAA executive Dan Gavitt said in a statement the organization would not permit symbols compromising a safe environment on venue property the tournament controls. Other areas are under the city’s jurisdiction, and the NCAA backed the city’s efforts to manage actions concerning freedom of speech.

This regional has dealt with politically charged events the past six months. The NCAA originally placed the games in Greensboro, North Carolina. But it removed them from the state over its HB2 bill, which limits protections offered to LGBT people and relocating to Greenville.

In 2002, the NAACP held a march in downtown Greenville to protest the state flying the flag on Statehouse grounds during the NCAA regionals at the arena.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin was asked about the flag protest after his team’s 88-81 victory over No. 2 Duke on Sunday night. He urged people not to judge all in South Carolina by the actions of some.

“Our state’s progressive. Our state has incredible people (who are) about moving forward,” he said. “But it’s America. We have freedoms. People have freedoms to do whatever they want to do with themselves and their property.”

Sunday’s games featured North Carolina against Arkansas and Duke against South Carolina.

South Carolina was unable to host NCAA predetermined championships because of the organization’s ban, which began in 2001. The NCAA regional in 2002 was allowed to remain in the state. That led the NAACP and others to turn out for a march to the arena steps in support of taking down the flag.

The issue was settled in 2015 after the massacre of nine black Charleston church goers by Dylann Roof, who was seen in pictures with the Confederate flag. State lawmakers voted to remove the flag in July 2015 and the NCAA lifted its sanctions. Roof was convicted of multiple murder counts and sentenced to death.

Hunter Meadows of Blue Ridge said the protesters did not think it fair that all Confederate flag supporters were blamed for Roof’s actions.

“I didn’t feel it was right when the flag came down,” said Meadows, who said his ancestors fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. “We wanted to show the NCAA that we’re still here.”

–Associated Press

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MISSISSIPPI: FLAG FIGHT NOT FADING

JACKSON, Miss. — The Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag is an issue that won’t die, even when legislative leaders say firmly that there’s no consensus to either change the banner or to force it to be flown in public places where it has disappeared.

The persistence of the fight has been abundantly clear the past couple of weeks in the state House of Representatives.

In this July 6, 2015 photograph, a participant of a "Save the Mississippi State Flag Rally" at the Capitol, holds a Mississippi flag as she listens to speakers in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi is the only state that includes the Confederate battle emblem in its state flag. The rebel X has been there since 1894. In a 2001 statewide election, people voted nearly 2-to-1 to keep the design. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

In this July 6, 2015 photograph, a participant of a “Save the Mississippi State Flag Rally” at the Capitol, holds a Mississippi flag as she listens to speakers in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi is the only state that includes the Confederate battle emblem in its state flag. The rebel X has been there since 1894. In a 2001 statewide election, people voted nearly 2-to-1 to keep the design. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Republican Rep. William Shirley of Quitman tried to amend several bills to put financial pressure on the eight public universities to display the flag. All have furled it because of the Confederate emblem that critics see as racist.

Supporters say the flag represents history. Shirley took part in a 2016 rally in support of the current flag, but said his effort to make universities fly the banner was not specifically about the rebel design.

“Whatever it is β€” pink, polka-dotted elephants, I don’t care β€” but if they are getting tax money they should fly the flag of the state,” he said.

After several unsuccessful efforts, Shirley stood at the front of the House chamber last Wednesday and silently waved two tiny flags β€” one, the state banner; the other, a plain white flag. He would not explain that action, but many interpreted it as a sign of at least temporary surrender.

The next day, the chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes of Gulfport, stood in the same spot and said Shirley should have apologized for disrupting the work of the House over a divisive symbol. Instead, she said he had “laughed and cooed” with other representatives.

“This flag remains a constant reminder of not just the past hate, but the current hate that continues to fester in this state amongst our residents and throughout this chamber,” Williams-Barnes said.

Mississippi is the last state with a flag that prominently features the Confederate battle emblem, years after Georgia redesigned its banner.

Mississippi has used the flag since 1894, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the flag, while widely displayed, had lacked official status since 1906, when state law books were updated and the flag design was not included. After public hearings degenerated into shouting matches between flag supporters and opponents in the fall of 2000, legislators put the design question on a statewide ballot in 2001, and voters reaffirmed it.

Debate over the public display of Confederate symbols intensified after the June 2015 slaying of nine black worshippers in a church in a Charleston, South Carolina, by an avowed white supremacist who had posed for photos with the Confederate battle flag. Soon after the massacre, South Carolina lawmakers removed a Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn was among the Mississippi political leaders who said this state needs to change its flag.

Williams-Barnes said she was told in 2016 that she should hold on and not make an issue about the flag because legislative leaders had a plan.

“So, I trusted. And I waited. And I waited,” she said last week. “And now, we are approaching the end of this legislative session and every flag bill is either buried or in a procession headed to the cemetery. … I am sick to my core of this flag and what it’s doing to my state. It’s not only about race. It’s about progression of our state. It’s about economic development in our state. It’s about tourism in our state. It’s about growth of our state. It’s about making Mississippi whole again.”

–Associated Press