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CNN Today

Protesters Demonstrate Against Confederate Flag in South Carolina

Aired January 17, 2000 - 1:02 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: America is observing Martin Luther King Day with speeches, services, parades, volunteer projects, and in one city, a demonstration. Thousands gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, where the Confederate flag still flies above the state capitol. While many South Carolinians consider it part of the state's heritage, critics say it is a symbol of slavery and the racism Dr. King fought his entire public life.

CNN's Brian Cabell joins us from Columbia -- Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon. It is a King Day celebration here in Columbia, but there are a couple of pressing issues on the minds of the people who are out here in the street.

No. 1, this is not actually a state holiday here in South Carolina. It's the only state in the Union that does not celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday. And secondly, as you mentioned, the Confederate flag flies over the capitol dome here in Columbia. It also flies within the house and assembly. People here, about 25,000 we've been told by police estimates so far, want the flag taken down.

The flag's been up here for some 38 years, since 1962. It went up initially as part of a Civil War centennial celebration. And for the last three or four years, there have been battles here in the legislature to try to take it down, but they have failed so far.

As a result, the NAACP has called for a boycott. They called for the boycott last July, officially started on January 1st, but it really has been in effect for about six months. Tourist officials tells us that about 91 meetings and conventions so far have been canceled as a result. We talked to a tourist official here today. He says it's cost literally millions of dollars. Clearly, some pressure to bring the flag down.

The legislature is going to deal with the issue this session. The governor is trying to negotiate, mediate some sessions to get it down. But Confederate backers, those who are Southern heritage types, they want to keep it up. They marched last week, some 6,000 strong. As we've been told, about 25,000 at least are marching today.

So once again, they're hoping this session of the legislature will finally see the flag come down. But it is a battle that is yet to be fought. The governor is hoping somehow they can work out some sort of compromise: Perhaps take the flag down, put it in a Confederate museum somewhere in Columbia. But it's going to be a long battle from everything we've been told.

I'm Brian Cabell, CNN live, in Columbia, South Carolina.

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