- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - The local chapter of the NAACP wants the Confederate flag banished from an upcoming holiday parade.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans are scheduled to join about 100 other groups Friday in The Roanoke Times Dickens of a Christmas parade.

At a news conference Saturday, the president of the city chapter of the NAACP called on city officials to banish the flag from the parade route, according to the Times (9http://bit.ly/1INuw4f).

President Brenda Hale said the flag, for many, represents the nation’s history of slavery, lynching and the oppression of African-Americans. She said the civil rights group has no issue with the Sons of Confederate Veterans marching.

But she called on city officials to ban the flag from the parade.

City Council member Sherman Lea, who attended a luncheon meeting with the NAACP and other city officials, agreed that the battle flag can be a painful image for some, but he said its display is protected as free speech.

“We have to respect the rule of law,” Lea said.

Mark Craig, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans 28th Virginia Infantry Camp, said he expects 12 to 20 members will march in Friday’s parade.

He doubted members of his camp would agree to leave the flag at home. “If it causes them pain, they are ignorant about the flag,” Craig said.

He added, “We are not racists.”

Like many states in the South, the display of the Confederate flag has been debated in recent years and more so in recent months after the slaying of nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church. The man accused in the killings had been photographed with the flag.

Shortly after the killings, Gov. Terry McAuliffe set in motion the process to remove the Confederate flag from Virginia license plates.

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com

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