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For the First Time, South Carolina Celebrates a State Holiday Honoring Martin Luther King

Aired January 15, 2001 - 2:18 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: In South Carolina today, for the first time, they are celebrating a state holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. But for some, this is also a day of protest. Several thousand people are gathered in Columbia voicing their opposition to the Confederate flag being on the Statehouse grounds.

CNN's Brian Cabell is there. He joins us now -- Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Natalie.

King Day ceremonies have just wrapped up, as a matter of fact, in Columbia, South Carolina. As you say, this was the first official King Day. It was mandated by the South Carolina legislature last year. Some compromise legislation that also allowed for a Confederate Memorial Day and also arranged for the moving of the Confederate battle flag from atop the capitol.

Now, the march this year was considerably smaller than that of last year. This year, I'd say maybe 5,000 people marched through the streets of Columbia, South Carolina. Last year, it was more like 50,000. But last year, keep in mind, the flag was still flying atop the capitol. Tempers were still pretty high. This was still a very controversial issue. This year, the tempers have died down somewhat.

Now, let's give you a look at exactly where the compromise has left the flag. The battle flag is now about 100 feet in front of the state capitol on a flag-post about 30, 35 feet high. It's on a busy street. That has angered some people here with the civil rights organizations. They're not happy to have it so visible. It's also alongside a Confederate soldier's monument.

But again, this was a compromise that was worked out by South Carolina legislators, black and white, Republican and Democrat. And this is what South Carolina is looking at these days.

Still, it is a controversy here and also across the South. In Mississippi, we have a flag issue that is going to be on a referendum April 17th. The voters of Mississippi will decide whether to keep the current Mississippi flag, which contains the Confederate emblem, or to take it down and put up another flag, a newly designed flag. And in Georgia, legislators there are wrangling with the flag issue. Once again, the Confederate emblem is part of their flag, and the legislators are being asked to change that flag once again. And there is a threat there that in case that flag is not taken down civil rights organizations are saying they may stage an economic boycott against Georgia. So the controversy still rages across the South. Here in South Carolina, it has faded somewhat, but it is an issue we will hear about in the weeks and months ahead.

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

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