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MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2005

Confederate flag dedication causes protests in Alabama

VERBENA (AP) — A dedication ceremony Sunday for a huge Confederate battle flag flying over Interstate 65 north of Montgomery drew about a half-dozen protesters with signs calling on Gov. Bob Riley to remove the "racist flag" display.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans describe the flag display as a permanent fixture. The organization bought land on the side of the interstate near Verbena and put up the flag, which has been flying for several months above the tree lines from the top of a large pole, easily visible from the heavily traveled interstate.

Leonard Wilson, commander of the Alabama division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, earlier announced plans to dedicate the flag Sunday afternoon.

"We are showing off our heritage. The flag is part of our heritage," Wilson said in an earlier interview.

Calling for the flag's removal, Birmingham civil rights activist and radio talk show host Frank Matthews said state troopers ordered his group off the interstate where they were placing roadside protest signs.

Matthews planned to use a bullhorn to read aloud a letter that he has written Riley that claims the flag violates state highway regulations on signs and billboards.

If the Confederate group is trying to convey a message to motorists on the interstate, Matthews contends, then it is controlled by sign regulations.

"The erection of the flag, where it is currently located, is in clear violation of state highway regulations of the Department of Transportation relating to the position allowed for signs along interstate highways," the letter says. He requests that Riley order the DOT director to have the group remove the flag.

DOT officials were not immediately available for comment Sunday.

Matthews also said the display is offensive because it's near a black cemetery. He said when the troopers arrived Sunday, his group pulled back to the cemetery.

The flag is located on a little more than half an acre of land just north of where Autauga County 68 crosses over the interstate, about six miles south of the Verbena exit. The land was purchased last December by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, according to the deed on file in Autauga County.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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