A Confederate flag was hoisted up a flagpole attached to a car near two NCAA tournament games in South Carolina on Sunday, just two years after the state was permitted to host the sporting events thanks to the flag’s removal from state grounds.
The controversial red and blue flag, which is today seen by many as a symbol of racism and to others one of Southern pride, was the handiwork of members of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, local Greenville station WYFF reported.
In addition to the large flag that was seen waving near Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena where the men’s games were taking place, protesters were seen carrying the flag on the streets below.
“People tend to mistake this for a race thing. It’s not about race. It’s about history and it being erased. And it is being erased,” an unidentified white demonstrator told a reporter, according to sports news outlet SB Nation.
Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller, speaking to WYFF, said that no laws were being broken and that the protesters reached out to see if they needed a permit to protest before hitting the streets. The protesters also said they wanted to pressure lawmakers to speed up the process of putting the Confederate flag that flew on state house grounds in a relic museum.
In a statement, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, assured that the flags and other related symbols will not be allowed on the venue’s property.
“No symbols that compromise that commitment will be permitted to be displayed on venue property that the tournament controls,” he said. “Freedom of speech activities on public property in areas surrounding the arena are managed by the city of Greenville and we are supportive of the city’s efforts.”
The flag’s appearance comes nearly three years after it was removed from above the Columbia statehouse, ending a near 15-year ban that prohibited the state from holding NCAA games.
The decision to remove the flag followed a 2015 targeted shooting at a historically black Charleston church that left nine black worshippers dead. The gunman named Dylann Roof, who was an avowed white supremacist, proudly posed for photos with different versions of the flag on social media.
Hunter Meadows, who was among those protesting with the flag on Sunday, told the Associated Press that the flag and its supporters shouldn’t be blamed for Roof’s actions. He also expressed upset that it had been removed from the capitol’s grounds.
“I didn’t feel it was right when the flag came down,” said Meadows, who said his ancestors fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. “We wanted to show the NCAA that we’re still here.”