BY JAMIE SELF
AND CASSIE COPE
THE STATE (TNS)
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Democratic presidential candidates and a focus on education drew about 2,000 people to a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally Monday in Columbia, the first since the Confederate flag was removed from the State House grounds.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton said, “That flag always belonged in a museum, not at the State House.” The flag flew nearby until last summer.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley joined marchers who walked from a prayer service at the A.M.E. Zion Church to the State House rally.
“King Day at the Dome” was a chance for the Democratic candidates to appeal to African-American South Carolina voters, who make up more than half of the state’s Democratic primary voters.
The candidates also touched on the theme of Monday’s King Day: Education.
Clinton tied education to gun violence, including the killing of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last summer – an issue she is making central to her campaign.
“This day is devoted to promoting education. And I hope for the sake of the children of South Carolina, progress is possible because the spirit of those who came before should live within everyone who strives to uproot the systemic inequities that remain,” Clinton said.
“It lives on in the mothers who are fighting for an end to gun violence nationwide. Because at a time when guns kill more young Black men than the next nine leading causes of death combined – and when Black people are killed worshiping at Mother Emanuel with a gun bought through a legal loophole – this isn’t just a public safety issue. It’s a civil rights issue.”
Sanders, O’Malley speak
Sanders focused his comments on income inequality, and inadequate access to health care and education, noting King was engaged in a “poor people’s campaign” when he was killed.
“Let us remember where Dr. King was when he was assassinated,” Sanders said. King “was standing with sanitation workers — oppressed workers, low-paid workers — and he was saying the lowest workers in America, the lowest paid people in America deserve dignity. I will stand with them.”
O’Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore, took a swipe at the Republican presidential candidates.
“You look at the Republican candidates for president. They seem to all want to make it easy to get a gun and hard to vote,” O’Malley said. “I say we should make it hard for criminals to get guns and easy for all Americans to vote.”
The King Day rally started in 2000 to protest the Confederate flag flying on the S.C. State House dome. A compromise that year lowered the flag from the dome to the grounds. However, in July, state lawmakers agreed to remove the flag and display it in a museum.