COLUMBIA, S.C. – The display of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina Statehouse is once again inciting rallies and protests, in light of the upcoming holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
About 100 defenders of the flag's place in the government building gathered Saturday to show their support and counter anti-flag marches planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
The weekend event, led by the Southern Rights Association, was called in part to highlight the group's belief that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People used the Old Glory debate solely as a publicity stunt.
"They need a cause," said rally organizer Robert Clarkson. "They went around looking and found the flag."
Clarkson believes the Confederate flag represents heritage, not racism.
"It's not a political symbol to us," he said.
Many at the Statehouse wore Stars and Bars hats and carried large Confederate flags. A group of men in gray Confederate soldier grab toted rifles and some women donned 1800s hoop-style dresses.
One demonstrator brought his blunt message for the NAACP: Keep out of South Carolina.
"Don't cross the border, stay on the other side," said Jerry Creech of the Southern Small Business Association. "We don't want you here."
The Confederate flag issue has divided the state since the Legislature decided to move the flag from the Statehouse dome to the Confederate soldier monument on the grounds in July 2000 as part of a compromise.
The NAACP has pressured lawmakers to completely remove the flag from Statehouse grounds. Their protest Monday is planned to honor the slain civil rights leader on his birthday.
It's a common misconception that the flag issue was over when it was removed from atop the Statehouse, said Ken James, president of the Hilton Head-Bluffton branch of the NAACP. "If anything, that was a slap in the face," James told The Beaufort Gazette.
The NAACP plans to stage "border patrols" along state lines, using signs to urge motorists not to stop, shop or stay in South Carolina. The patrols will start in late February and will be at all the major interstates and other highways entering the state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.