COLUMBIA, S.C. -- State lawmakers have taken a key step toward removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome, but the NAACP said today that the move won't end a racially tinged controversy that led to a punishing tourism boycott and new scrutiny of Southern heritage.
The state Senate approved a compromise bill on Wednesday, exactly 139 years after the Civil War began when Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter, the federal installation in Charleston harbor.
The vote was 36-7. All opponents were Republicans.
''This is one more hurdle that has been overcome,'' said Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges, who supports flag removal.
The bill would remove the banner from the dome and place a similar battle flag behind an existing monument honoring Confederate soldiers in front of the Statehouse.
The flag would fly from a pole no taller than 20 feet -- shorter than the monument in front of it -- an element added to satisfy black lawmakers and others who did not want the flag in a prominent position to passers-by. Six black lawmakers were among those voting for it.
But the South Carolina NAACP today issued a statement rejecting the plan and stating the its tourism boycott would continue.
The location still represents a position of sovereignty, and it is still too visible, state NAACP President James Gallman said. The organization's executive committee voted unanimously against the proposal, he said.
The Senate plan ''adds insult to injury,'' said Nelson Rivers, field operations director for the national organization and a former official in the South Carolina conference. NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said the national organization backs the state conference's decision.
Sen. Ralph Anderson, one of the black senators who backed the proposal, said he appreciated the NAACP's efforts, but ''as a senator, we had to work and look at the whole picture. I felt that we got the best deal that we could and created an atmosphere that would create better race relationships.''
''The NAACP could come to accept the flag at the monument to the Confederate soldiers,'' he said. ''I think they know that this is better than what we had. I think the nation will understand that.''
The bill also would remove Confederate flags hanging in the House and Senate chambers, and protect monuments, memorials and buildings erected or named in honor of the Confederacy or civil rights movement.
A final vote -- usually a procedural matter -- was expected in the Democrat-controlled Senate today. The bill still needs approval by the Republican-controlled House, which has twice refused to pass such a measure in the past six years.
Still, some lawmakers appeared optimistic.
''We have fought this thing and we have fought this thing, and the olive branch is now out on both sides,'' said Republican Sen. Glenn McConnell, who owns a Confederate memorabilia shop in Charleston.
South Carolina is the only state that flies the Confederate flag above its Statehouse. Opponents say it is a racist symbol, while supporters say it represents Southern heritage and honors Confederate war dead.
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