GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - A small group of protesters flew a large Confederate flag from the top of a parking garage next to the arena where two men's NCAA Tournament games are being played.
The group arrived Sunday morning, raising the flag from the back of a pickup truck. They planned to stay throughout the games and be on grounds as fans arrived at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Confederate Flag Flies Near NCAA Arena In SC
Protesters say they hope to make their presence known to the NCAA. The governing body lifted its ban against South Carolina holding championships in 2015. By the early afternoon there were about a dozen protesters, many carrying Confederate flags, across the street from the arena's main entrance.
This regional has dealt with politically charged events the past six months. The NCAA originally placed the games in Greensboro, North Carolina. But it removed them from the state over its HB2 bill, which limits protections offered to LGBT people and relocating to Greenville.
In 2002, the NAACP held a march in downtown Greenville to protest the state flying the flag on Statehouse grounds during the NCAA regionals at the arena.
The NCAA is proud and excited to host championships in the state of South Carolina once again,” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA senior vice president of basketball, said in a statement. "We are committed to assuring that our events are safe and accessible to all. No symbols that compromise that commitment will be permitted to be displayed on venue property that the tournament controls. Freedom of speech activities on public property in areas surrounding the arena are managed by the city of Greenville and we are supportive of the city’s efforts.
On Sunday, North Carolina plays Arkansas followed by Duke against South Carolina.
The issue was settled in 2015 after the massacre of nine black Charleston church goers by Dylann Roof, who was seen in pictures with the Confederate flag. State lawmakers voted to remove the flag in July 2015 and the NCAA lifted its sanctions. Roof was convicted of multiple murder counts and sentenced to death.
Hunter Meadows of Blue Ridge said the protesters did not think it fair that all Confederate flag supporters were blamed for Roof's actions.
"I didn't feel it was right when the flag came down," said Meadows, who said his ancestors fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. "We wanted to show the NCAA that we're still here."