An article Jan. 15 about the Confederate flag that flies above the Alabma state capitol should have attributed an editorial in favor of removing the banner to the Birmingham Post-Herald. (Published 2/3/ 88)

MONTGOMERY, ALA. -- The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott was planned, stands about a block from the red-domed state capitol, where a Confederate battle flag flies.

Coexistence has not been easy for these polar opposites of Alabama history in the nearly 30 years since the stars and bars were first hoisted in commemoration of the Civil War's centennial year.

At the church, whose pulpit once belonged to slain the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., visitors can see a vivid painted mural in the basement that chronicles the progress of the civil rights movement.

At the capitol, elected officials defend the flying of the battle flag beneath the U.S. and Alabama flags as a historical tribute to southerners who died during the Civil War.

But the dispute over the banner, which flares up periodically in Alabama and other southern states, reached a new peak this year after state Rep. Thomas Reed, also the state NAACP president, vowed to climb the capitol dome and remove the flag if Gov. Guy Hunt has not ordered it lowered by Feb. 2, the day the state legislature opens its winter session.

Reed's pledge grows out of a call by the NAACP southeast regional conference to remove the battle flags from capitols in Alabama and South Carolina and redesign the state flags in Georgia and Mississippi, which incorporate the same "southern cross" motif.

The NAACP is invoking the upcoming King national holiday to solicit protest signatures in addition to the 20,000 it has gathered in hopes of bringing the issue to a head in the four state legislatures this spring.

"We don't live in a secessionist society anymore, so why hold on to these relics?" said Earl Shinhoster, the NAACP's southeast regional director. "If this is a new era and a New South, whatever symbols are used ought to be reflective of all the people. No symbol should favor one group of people anymore than it disfavors another group of people."

In 1983, the flag was banned at the University of Mississippi after the school's first black cheerleader refused to wave it. In 1969, the New Orleans City Council removed the flag from its chambers under pressure from black residents.

But in South Carolina, Confederate flags still fly above the capitol dome, hang in the capitol's main hall and over the podiums of the House and Senate chambers. The first salvos in that state's latest flag war were fired even before the state legislature began its six-month session this week.

State Sen. Glenn McConnell, a leader of the movement to keep the flag flying, said displaying the Confederate flags "invokes good feelings when people see them, not feelings of hate and racism."

Making an issue of the flag, McConnell said, drives a "wedge between the races" and removing it would besmirch the memory of those who gave their lives for the Confederacy during the Civil War. "They ask us to dishonor that flag in a cloud of shame by turning it over to posterity as a symbol of hate and racism," said McConnell, a Charleston Republican.

"There are those in the state who do not have a good opinion of Dr. King," he added. "Should they respond by not celebrating that holiday?"

Hunt, Alabama's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, has shown little interest in removing the flag, a duty he maintains belongs to the state legislature.

"The flag controversy is just not high on our list of priorities," Hunt spokesman Terry Abbott said. Past efforts to interest the legislature in removing it have failed in South Carolina and Alabama.

Abbott also said that the Alabama state capitol, which served as the seat of secessionist government when Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the first president of the Confederacy, is as proper a place to fly the flag as exists in the nation.

"The number of calls we have had demanding that {Hunt} not take that flag down has been tremendous," Abbott said. "People believe it is part of history."

Such fervor has been reflected in letters to local newspapers, where readers have complained that the NAACP's effort to have the flag removed would "further polarize" the people of Alabama.

The Birmingham News, however, editorialized last week in favor of removing the flag, deeming its display an embarrassment by calling the controversy "silly and boring." The newspaper urged state officials to "take the thing down, put it in a museum and shut up about it."