COLUMBIA, S.C. – Democratic presidential hopefuls Wesley Clark (search) and Al Sharpton (search) called for the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds as they rallied about 2,000 people gathered Monday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"That flag belongs in a museum. It is a flag of the past," said Clark, pointing to the flag and drawing the loudest applause in his speech on continuing King's fight for equity in education, justice and jobs for blacks in America.
The Confederate flag is a sensitive issue in South Carolina. The flag was removed from the capitol dome in 2000 and moved it to its current location at a monument on the statehouse grounds. Nevertheless, the state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search) began a statewide economic boycott in 2000 that they plan to continue until the flag is removed.
Weeks ago, Democratic candidate Howard Dean riled some South Carolina Democrats as well as several of his rivals when he said he wants "to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."
South Carolina is one of the key early voting states in the Democratic presidential race, with a primary Feb. 3. Black voters are expected to make up nearly half the electorate in the first-in-the-South primary.
"This is not a day that you wave a flag of Confederacy and wave a flag of racism," Sharpton said.
The New York preacher fired-up the crowd as he shouted from the statehouse steps. He reminded the crowd about King's struggle for civil rights and the importance of the right to vote in the primary.
In Iowa, in the final hours before caucus voting, Dean quickly left a ceremony honoring the slain civil rights leader, saying he didn't want it disrupted by the crush of reporters following him. Dean arrived at the Iowa Historical Building with dozens of television crews and other media in tow. The entourage was estimated at about 200.
Some in the audience complained that the former Vermont governor was trying to overshadow the event hosted by the Iowa Commission on the Status of African-Americans.
Dean spokeswoman Sarah Leonard said the "crush of reporters ... were so disruptive that, out of respect for those attending ... he felt it was best to leave rather than allow the media to disrupt their event."