COLUMBIA, S.C. – The NAACP will make a stronger push to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse, the president of the civil rights organization said Monday.
Benjamin Jealous wouldn't go into details, but said by the summer the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would bring more publicity to its economic boycott of South Carolina. The campaign calls for Blacks to not vacation in the state and spend as little money as they can within its borders.
Jealous was in South Carolina to speak at a rally by the state's NAACP chapter honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
A scholar and activist invoked the fiery side of Martin Luther King Jr.'s rhetoric Monday at the civil rights icon's church, urging the audience not to "sanitize" King's legacy or let the president off the hook on issues like poverty.
Across the country, Americans marked what would have been King's 81st birthday with rallies and parades. And days ahead of the anniversary of his historic inauguration, President Barack Obama honored King by serving meals to the needy.
But in the city where the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner was born, it was Princeton University professor Cornel West who reminded listeners that King's message of nonviolence came with a fiery urgency. West delivered a passionate keynote address to hundreds at Ebenezer Baptist Church on the 25th federal observance of King's birthday.
While speakers also discussed education and health care, the rally in South Carolina continues to be entwined with the Confederate flag, which slowly waved in a slight breeze on a 30-foot pole on the front lawn of the Capitol.
It was moved from its perch atop the Capitol dome after the NAACP began holding rallies on the King holiday to protest the flag. For the first rally in 2000, some 50,000 people jammed Statehouse grounds to demand the flag be taken down. The flag was moved months later.
For 40 years, the flag had flown below U.S. and state flags. Supporters said it commemorated the state's valiant fight in the Civil War, while detractors said it was a thumb in the eye of the civil rights movement.
The NAACP didn't support the compromise that displays the flag beside one of Columbia's busiest streets, but there has been little effort to revisit the issue. Jealous hopes to change that in the next few years.
"Dr. King knew it was put there as an act of intimidation and hatred. Moving it from right up top to smack in front doesn't change things," Jealous said. "In some ways it worsens the problem. You stand there and look at that flag and see how big it is to you and you look up at the American flag and see how small it is."
Theron Foster has been to every King Day rally since 2000. Monday, he showed his 8-year-old daughter the African-American History monument less than 100 yards from the flag.
"I want her to know both sides of the story of South Carolina," Foster said. "I want her to see what an insult this state puts right next to the story of her people."
Foster has lost hope the Confederate flag will be taken off the Capitol grounds any time soon, but he said he'll keep fighting and make sure his daughter takes up the battle.
That is the NAACP's plan too.
"Time is on our side," Jealous said. "It's not on the side of those who would like to see it fly for a thousand years."
Thousands turned out for the rally and a march through downtown streets, where bomb-sniffing dogs checked every mailbox, planter and paper box along the route and dozens of police officers lined the streets, some keeping an eye on the crowd from the top of parking decks. It was one of the biggest turnouts for the event beside the 2000 rally and the 2008 event, which included Democratic presidential candidates.
The NAACP collected donations for earthquake relief in Haiti, encouraged people to register to vote, reminded them to participate in next year's census and asked them to stay politically active.
"Hold them as accountable as they expect you to be," said Lonnie Randolph, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, as he gestured to the Statehouse behind him.