MONTGOMERY, ALA., JAN. 23 -- The state president of the NAACP will not be permitted to pull down the Confederate battle flag from the dome of the Alabama capitol, Gov. Guy Hunt (R) said today.

Hunt, in his weekly radio address, acknowledged that the flag stirs widely divergent emotions in many blacks and whites but said it will not be removed unless the legislature authorizes such action.

"I appeal to the leaders across this state to lower their voices and lower the rhetoric and let's work together," Hunt said.

State Rep. Thomas Reed, a black Democrat from Tuskegee, promised to rip the flag from atop the capitol if Hunt, the state's first Republican governor this century, does not remove it before the legislature convenes Feb. 2.

He said the flag is a symbol of slavery and black oppression.

Reed made the vow as part of a campaign by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to remove Confederate flags that are displayed separately or as part of the design of state flags on statehouses in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Hunt noted that the capitol is undergoing renovation and is surrounded by a chain-link fence, with locked gates, and said Reed could be barred entry. Reed said later that he will meet with the governor Tuesday and will withhold any comment until then.

The flag flying atop Alabama's capitol -- below the American and state flags -- is the Confederate battle flag, a standard used in the Confederacy's military campaigns during the Civil War. The first official flag of the Confederacy, known as the "Stars and Bars," it flies across the street from the capitol at the first White House of the Confederacy.

Historians say the rebel battle flag was raised on the capitol either in the 1961 Civil War centennial or shortly after George C. Wallace first became governor in 1963 with the motto "Segregation forever."

"To some, the Confederate battle flag that flies over the state capitol represents slavery and oppression," Hunt said. "To others, it brings to mind the thousands of young men who gave their lives in that terrible war between the states more than 120 years ago.

"Alabama is the birthplace of the Confederacy and the civil rights movement, and many believe that the flag should remain a part of history and stay at the capitol. . . . I believe the flag is properly displayed on a historic landmark like the capitol," Hunt said. "Others disagree, and that's fine. But ultimately, the will of the people must be the deciding factor in this case. If the people of Alabama want the flag removed, they will make that clear to their legislators."