- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

BALTIMORE A dozen demonstrators 10 dressed as Confederate soldiers trundled out of their chartered bus and into the glare of public attention yesterday.
The nine men and one woman, clad in the steamy, gray wool of the Southern army and the grim expressions of those with an unpleasant task, were guarded by the police as they marched in a circle on the opening day of the NAACP's 91st annual national convention.
The protest, sponsored by the newly formed Southern Party of Georgia, was aimed at getting the nation's largest civil rights organization to rescind a 1991 resolution calling for the removal of the Confederate flag and symbols from all government property.
"This is just the beginning, the start of what we can do," said John C. Hall Jr., organizer of the march. Mr. Hall and co-organizer Michael Reed wore suits for credibility, Mr. Hall said.
Large groups of conventioneers stood outside steel barricades that were made into a pen for the protesters.
Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president, said Saturday that the conference would take up such issues as enlisting voters, improving public education, school vouchers and the Confederate flag.
The scheduled speakers include presidential hopefuls George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore as well as civil rights activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Mr. Sharpton said yesterday black men and women must not stop fighting for rights because "there are still more black men in jail then there are as cops."
The convention is expected to draw 10,000 people.
The Confederate protesters, who arrived shortly after 10 a.m., took their place 100 yards from the main entrance of the Baltimore Convention Center.
Some bystanders were angered; more snapped photos.
"When I was a little girl in Mississippi, these kind of people wore sheets," said Naomi Rainey, a teacher from Long Beach, Calif. "This is still improper. It's like going to a funeral in a prom dress."
Some detractors told the protesters to go home. The demonstrators came from Georgia, Virginia, and even a few miles away in the Baltimore suburbs.
Michael Chandler paid $25 and drove 11 hours from his home in Blue Ridge, Ga., to meet the Confederate bus in the District of Columbia all to get gussied up in dusty, Civil War regalia and carry a sign that said "Stop NAACP Bigotry."
"I'm not a rebel," asserted Mr. Chandler, a slight man with a red beard going to gray. "But I'm defending the Constitution. Instead of the NAACP spending money on getting rid of the Confederate flag, why aren't they trying to address illegitimate children and people smoking crack?"
He and his colleagues represented several Southern heritage groups, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the League of the South.
They seemed to relish their chance to speak with the mostly black spectators, some of whom were as curious as they were surprised at these people clad in museum relics.
"I have nothing against you personally," convention attendee Flo Roach said to one of the demonstrators. "But you don't understand why this is offensive?"
"No ma'am, could you explain it to me?" the soldier said.
Others were clearly upset by the presence of the protesters, shouting them down and jeering them as they walked by.
"You are going to live with us," Nessie Panton of New York City yelled to them. "We are here to stay."
Mr. Mfume said later that he saw the protest group as he was walking through a skywalk that looked onto the sidewalk, but he would not talk to them.
"I think they know where I'm coming from, and I know where they're coming from," Mr. Mfume said. "I'm not going to condemn their right to picket."
He also wondered if the dispute was a misunderstanding. "We've never said they can't fly the flag. We just said they can't fly it on public buildings, as in South Carolina. If they want to fly it at home, on the back of their car, wherever, that's property rights, which I support. That's not our business."
Julian Bond, NAACP board chairman, was less diplomatic during a Saturday press conference: "These people are beneath contempt. I'm not going to spend a minute talking about them."
He called them "apologists for slavery."
Mr. Sharpton exhorted over 300 luncheon attendees to make sure that any personal success does not inhibit black people from "[fighting] those in high places."
"We still have a big fight," said Mr. Sharpton, president of the National Action Network in New York. "This is the first generation that will give its kids less than they had… . We have lost our way… . trying to get along with those in power."

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