More than 600 people set out Sunday on a five-day, 120-mile protest march to Columbia to urge state lawmakers to move the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome.
"Take it down!" chanted some marchers.
"The people of South Carolina--white and African American--want the flag to come down," said Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who spearheaded the march.
"The purpose is to say the people of South Carolina are in step, and we want the Legislature to get in step with the people of South Carolina," said the mayor, who carried the blue state flag with its white palmetto tree and crescent as he led marchers into the street.
The marchers, who made it 12 miles to Goose Creek on Sunday night, will walk only during daylight hours. They plan to arrive in Columbia for a rally on Thursday, when pro-flag supporters have also scheduled a Statehouse rally.
The National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People has called for a tourism boycott of the state, saying the Confederate flag above the Statehouse in Columbia is a racist emblem. Flag defenders say it is a symbol of Southern heritage and honors Confederate war dead.
Only state lawmakers can move the flag from the dome, and several plans are under consideration. Organizers of the "Get in Step" walk say it should be moved from the dome to a place of honor.
Novelist Pat Conroy, a South Carolinian, was on hand for the start of the march.
But he said he would pick up with the marchers again on Thursday in Columbia.
"They would find me dead on the highway if I tried to make the entire march," he said.
Conroy said South Carolina lawmakers do not like being told what to do, but predicted the march will help resolve the issue.
"It's going to be such hideous publicity, including this right here, that it will help," he said.
One of those who marched Sunday was former Gov. John West, a state lawmaker when the flag was raised by the all-white 1962 General Assembly.
West, who served as governor from 1971 to 1975, led an effort to get lawmakers who raised the flag to ask for its removal.
"As I have had to say publicly, somewhat to my embarrassment, in hindsight one of the mistakes I made as governor is not taking it down," he said. "It was not an issue then. Had it been an issue, I would like to think I would have taken it down."
One pro-flag demonstrator watched as the marchers left a park on the edge of the city's historic district after a brief rally.
Carter Sabo of Charleston stood with a Confederate flag and said he wanted to make sure the banner is given a place of honor at the Statehouse.