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NAACP sounds new battle cry in flag fight

The NAACP, which suggests tourists avoid South Carolina because the Confederate flag still flies over the statehouse, is prepared to take the fight further.

The civil rights group has amassed campaign records to learn which companies have donated money to lawmakers who want the flag to stay. Supporters say the flag represents South Carolina's heritage and honors its war veterans; the NAACP says it's a symbol of slavery and racism.

"We're looking at all of them but especially those who have taken a public position in favor of leaving the Confederate battle flag flying," said Dwight James, executive director of the NAACP's South Carolina branch.

South Carolina, the only state with the Confederate flag flying above its Capitol, raised it in 1962 to commemorate the Civil War's centennial. Several attempts to take it down have failed, including a lawsuit by business leaders.

Former Gov. David Beasley campaigned to remove it and lost in the November election. Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges, who promised not to revive the issue, said the legislature lacks the political will to tackle it.

Since the NAACP called for the boycott last month, the National Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and African Methodist Episcopal Churches have canceled convention plans. Other groups, including the United Negro College Fund, are considering pulling out.

Tourism has become South Carolina's leading industry, bringing in 28.5-million visitors a year and $14.5-billion, according to the state's Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. African-Americans account for 2.1-million visitors and spend an estimated $280-million a year.

NAACP officials this week began reviewing the financial disclosure forms filed by 14 senators and seven House members, most of whom have favored keeping the flag above the Capitol dome. Among those targeted were five black lawmakers.

The forms, required by law, list political contributions, income and business connections.

Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, who owns a Confederate memorabilia gallery, says the flag will never come down: "Apparently they don't think their boycott will work and so now they're looking for some other tactic to resort to."

"Never's a relative thing," said Nelson Rivers III, a Charleston native who is director of national field operations for the NAACP.

"In South Carolina, they'd better be careful. They said we would never have school desegregation. They said African-Americans would never go to Clemson. They said the South would never lose the Civil War."

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