NAACP Marches to NCAA Tournament to Protest Confederate Flag

Shouting "Don't stop, don't shop, 'til the flag drops," about 125 NAACP protesters marched to the site of the NCAA tournament here in a continued fight to bring down the Confederate flag in South Carolina.

As the group moved up East North Street to the steps of the Bi-Lo Center, about 20 flag supporters waved banners, shouted and yelled across the street.

"The first symbol of terrorism came to America years ago and it is behind you," NAACP national field director Nelson Rivers said of the Confederate group as top-seeded Duke faced No. 8 seed Notre Dame inside.

Protesters fanned out around the arena to hand out leaflets and fliers after a brief rally on the Bi-Lo steps.

"Of course, this tournament provides an opportunity," Rivers said. "We'd rather they not be here, but since they are we have to make our statement."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have had a tourism boycott against South Carolina since Jan. 1, 2000, demanding the flag be removed from the Statehouse Dome. The group continued its protest after state lawmakers agreed to put the flag on a pole at the Confederate Soldiers' monument six months later.

"We won't stop this month, we won't stop this summer, we won't stop this year," Rivers said.

The NCAA was asked by the NAACP and others two years ago to take these games away from the arena because of the Confederate flag. But the NCAA's executive committee chose to keep them here and place a two-year hold on awarding championships to states like South Carolina.

"We plan to hold them to that," Rivers said. "And we think it's very important to tell the nation that the flag of hatred and terrorism and denigration of a people still flies in an official position in South Carolina."

The other side of this issue was just across the street.

Roger Stewart, the state coordinator for the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, carried a small sign saying "Welcome to S.C." and led several Confederate flag backers on their own morning march to the Bi-Lo.

Stewart, whose group lists David Duke as their national president, said this week's action followed last week's welcome patrols at state highway centers.

"People understand that what we're out here trying to make the people not pay attention to economic terrorism like the NAACP is trying to do," he said.

Out of towners, like most of the NCAA players and coaches here this week, said the dual demonstrations didn't diminish what they came for -- March Madness.

"People are always going to find something to protest," said Christopher Yanni, a Kent State student with face painted blue and gold. "Everybody's got their own issues."

Kent State, the 10th seed, met No. 2 Alabama in the South Regional's closing game.

Steve Morgan of Simpsonville watched the Confederate rally as he waited to go inside. "No matter what happens this week, it's all about the basketball," he said.

Tony Lanford, EURO's upstate coordinator, said his people planned to stay on their side throughout the afternoon. "We're not a violent group of people," he said. "We want people to know it's OK to come to South Carolina."

The flag has been a contentious issue in South Carolina for decades. Since 2000, the NAACP has stepped up action to get it off the Statehouse grounds entirely.

They held protests at the Southern Conference basketball tournament here a year ago. The group rallied and marched outside Sea Pines Plantation, where the PGA Tour's WorldCom Classic is held.

"We want to make people aware that the Confederate flag issue is not settled," South Carolina NAACP president James Gallman said.

The NAACP also had border patrols in the Upstate on Saturday asking tourists to stay out of the state.