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MLK March Now Confederate Flag-Free In SC

A bit of history was made Monday in Columbia, SC. For the first time, marchers with the annual Martin Luther King Day at the Dome march were not greeted by the Confederate battle flag when they reached the state capitol. But this march was not about mission accomplished. And it didn’t keep the leading Democrats running for president from using the Martin Luther King Day gathering to woo voters.

The King Day at the Dome march has been held in Columbia since 2000. And over that time the Confederate battle flag was as present as the organ music behind the prayers and sermons at the Zion Baptist Church in downtown Columbia.

People gathered at the church to pray and be inspired for the march that lay ahead. The Confederate flag, of course, was taken down last summer, a move lauded by keynote speaker, Bishop James Walker.

Credit Tom Bullock
Tom Bullock
Bishop James Walker was the keynote speaker at the Zion Baptist Church prior to the march.

Now, he says it's time for the Civil Rights Movement to go through a remix, like a Motown classic featured in a rap song. And he says it's time for the next generation and the Black Lives Matter movement to take center stage.

"They want to cry for the 130 people who were killed in Paris. They want to cry for them. But before they cry for the 130 lives who were lost in Paris, they were insisting the rest of the world join them in crying for the 7,000 people killed in Nigeria."

By the terrorist group Boko Haram.

The pews of the church were not packed. But outside, far more people listened as the sermon switched from terrorists abroad to the high rate of incarceration at home.

"It might be legal but it is not moral. It might be legal but it is not ethical. It might be legal, but it is not humane. It’s just not humane for young people to spend their lives in a jail cell. There are Martin Luther King Jrs in jail today," Bishop Walker said.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley participated in the march.

"There’s something wrong when we have more people in jail than any other country on earth. Largely African-American and Latino," Sanders said before the march began. "When we have youth unemployment that is off the charts we should be investing in education and jobs, not more jails."

The march was a cold, 1-mile trek to the Capitol, where Hillary Rodham Clinton joined them.

"And how wonderful it is to be here without the Confederate flag overhead," Clinton said to loud cheers.

Credit Tom Bullock / WFAE
The media set up where the confederate battle flag once flew.

The Confederate flag’s absence was a strong reminder of how much has changed on the capitol grounds over the past six months. The battle flag and the 30-foot flagpole on which it once flew are gone, replaced this day with a small temporary riser populated by television camera crews. Some in the crowd carried signs which read "No more confederacy of the mind in S.C."

But they were largely outnumbered by supporters carrying the campaign signs of Sanders or Clinton.

Clinton told the crowd that gun control and civil rights go hand in hand.

"At a time when guns kill more young black men than the next nine leading causes of death combined, this isn’t just a public health issue, it’s a civil rights issue."

As for Sanders, he focused on income inequality in the richest nation on earth.

"Why do we have a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires, and moms and children living out on the streets?"

O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland told the crowd he didn’t understand the priorities of Republicans writ large.

"They want to make it easy to get a gun and hard to vote. I say we should make it hard for criminals to get a gun and easy for all Americans to vote, don’t you?"

And getting people to vote is the key for these three. African American’s are an important group for Democrats. They helped get Barak Obama elected in 2008 and 2012. The 2016 hopefuls need their support if they are to win their way to the White House come November.