Confederate Flag Rally Held in Ala. March 4, 2000

  By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A group that wants the South to secede from the union staged a Confederate flag-waving rally Saturday, a day before President Clinton was to lead marchers across a Selma bridge to mark the 35th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" in the civil rights movement.
Confederate flags and rebel yells rose from the steps of Alabama's Capitol at the Old South rally. Kilt-wearing bagpipers playing "Dixie" joined Civil War re-enactors dressed in gray and butterscotch uniforms to lead a parade to the building, where Jefferson Davis took the oath as president of the Confederacy in 1861.
Afterward, members of the Southern nationalist organization that staged the rally signed a "Declaration of Southern Cultural Independence," described as the first step in what they hope is a second secession by the South.
"The national culture of the United States is violent and profane, coarse and rude, cynical and deviant, and repugnant to the Southern people and to every people with authentic Christian sensibilities," read the document.
"Independence Now!" chanted the virtually all-white crowd. Hundreds signed petitions demanding that the Rebel flag with its familiar X-design be returned to the Capitol dome, where it used to fly.
"We have a cultural heritage we are proud of and we will defend it by all honorable means," said Michael Hill, president of the Tuscaloosa-based League of the South, which put the event together.
Montgomery police and Hill estimated the crowd at about 2,500. Officers arrested four protesters who tried to enter the barricaded area reserved for Confederate backers, and police removed two women who drew jeers for carrying American flags.
"We want to stay in the Union. We don't want racism and hate," said Anne Torma of Birmingham, a U.S. flag draped over her shoulder.
As speakers criticized groups that claim the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism and hate, a congressional delegation led by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., toured civil rights sites in Birmingham and Montgomery.
Lewis' group is to join Clinton on Sunday in Selma for the 35th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," the day scores of black voting rights demonstrators were beaten by state troopers and sheriff's officers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on a march to Montgomery.
Led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., marchers returned two weeks later and began the weeklong Selma-to-Montgomery march, which helped spur quick passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"It will be a very moving and meaningful day," Lewis said of the anniversary march. "It's a historic site - a lampost in a long journey toward equal rights."
At the League of the South rally, a blue banner emblazoned with "No King But Jesus" provided the backdrop for more than three hours of Civil War-era music and speeches against moral decay, the media and the federal government.
"The South was right! Say it loud enough that they can hear you in Selma with Mr. Clinton!" screamed Walter Kennedy, drawing cheers.
One of the few blacks in the crowd, H.K. Edgerton, stood in a Confederate uniform beside 93-year-old Alberta Martin of Elba, a Confederate widow. The southeast Alabama woman married an 81-year-old Confederate veteran when she was 21.
She wore a rebel flag as a scarf as Edgerton explained how he went from being president of the Asheville, N.C., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to one of the few blacks active in the Confederate separatist movement.
"I'm a Southerner. Am I supposed to walk away from that?" said Edgerton, 52, who has defended the Confederate flag since being suspended from the NAACP in 1998 for violating the organization's rules.
The NAACP, which claims the rebel banner is a symbol of racism and oppression, is trying to pressure South Carolina into removing the flag from its Capitol dome through a tourism boycott.
In Alabama, a judge ruled in 1993 that only the state and national flags were allowed to fly above the seat of government. Then-Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. did not appeal the ruling.
As the Confederate rally began, a biracial group called One Montgomery met at the nearby Civil Rights Memorial, with Mayor Bobby Bright on hand, to promote racial harmony.
Dan Neukomm of Adairsville, Ga., said the South should break away from the United States even if it means another Civil War.
"If we stay, my children will be living under communism," said Neukomm, a Confederate flag in hand.

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