The NAACP will not back down from its effort to ban the flying of the Confederate flag at state and local government addresses throughout the South, a policy that sparked a peaceful protest by a small group of demonstrators, some in Confederate soldier uniforms, at the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday.
"The resolution will not be rescinded," said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, referring to a 1991 resolution that sparked a boycott against South Carolina, where the Confederate flag had flown over the Statehouse dome until July 1.
The boycott will continue until the flag - which now flies at what some consider a more visible site at a Civil War memorial near the Statehouse - is removed from state grounds, said Mfume, who says it is a symbol of slavery.
"Absolutely, that's what it is," he said yesterday.
Mfume's response disappointed the dozen or so protesters, who said they were seeking a frank discussion with top-ranking NAACP leaders at the organization's 91st annual convention.
Instead, they were denied entrance to the convention center, confined to marching in a small area marked off with metal dividers, and observed by Baltimore police, including a trio of mounted officers.
"This is the beginning of the end of the NAACP's reign of terror in the South," said John Hall, a march organizer and member of the Southern Party of Georgia, which dubbed the event "The Baltimore Raid" on its Web site. "By peaceful means, we will achieve this goal."
A message about the raid on the group's Web site describes it as "an offensive move aimed at stopping the NAACP from advancing any further in [its] efforts to destroy Southern Heritage."
During the five-hour protest, which garnered hoots of support from some motorists along Pratt Street, demonstrators tried to explain away what they called "misinformation" about the Confederate flag.
"There were free black men who owned slaves," said Hall. "They joined the Confederacy."
Narda Myles-Brown, 40, a black convention-goer, knows a bit about that - her great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier.
She said the Confederate flag can be a source of "Dixie" pride. "I'm from Texas," she said, laughing.
"It's this new movement with the skinheads that worries me," said Myles-Brown, who is visiting Baltimore from Denton, Texas. "They use the flag as a symbol of violence."
That's what upsets Confederate flag defenders, as well.
"We can't control what everyone does," said Michael Reed, a member of the League of the South, a group that works to promote Southern culture and traditions, and one of three groups represented at the protest.
For the most part, exchanges between demonstrators and NAACP convention participants were amicable and lively, with words flying back and forth at great speed and, at times, volume.
"Are you a racist?" asked Nichole Reed, 18, of Olney, of one protestor, Ted Kosick, 49, of Salisbury.
"Of course I'm not," responded Kosick, who carried a Confederate flag. "I'm just as much afraid of [racists] as you are."
Some convention participants said the flag fracas had eclipsed more important issues, such as teen-age pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
"We've got people dying of AIDS, and we're worrying about that flag," said Gwen Coe, 47, of Marlboro County, S.C. "Just get over it."