The Hearts of the People

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Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters. Front photo by John Moore/Getty

About 50 members of a dwindling KKK, several swastikas in tow, marched on the South Carolina statehouse this weekend in sweltering heat to protest the demise of the Confederate flag, the stealing of "our heritage" and "the freedom out of America," and the inexorable changing of the times, which clearly frightens them. They were met by a larger crowd of black activists and others insisting that "a lot more work needs to be done" in what is "still a racist nation."

The rally, organized by an ad-hoc, oft-convicted leader of North Carolina's Loyal White Knights of the KKK who even fellow-Klansmen view as a bit of a scumbag and "modern-day, fake mom-and-pop" white supremacist, was deemed "disastrous" by other die-hard Southerners who have spent the last month or two insisting the Confederate flag represents not hatred and racism but a lofty heritage. It didn't much help the cause of their allegedly lofty heritage when they started yelling racial slurs at several hundred members of the Florida-based Black Lawyers for Justice and Black Educators for Justice, who had gathered for an earlier counter-rally. A huge police presence tried to keep the peace. In the end, there were five arrests, a couple of scuffles, some memorable signs - John Holmes, a veteran and descendant of a lynching victim, wore a sign around his neck that said “Unarmed black man, don’t miss” - and one fatality: a Confederate flag torn to pieces by black protesters.

Many protesters acknowledged the flag is merely what one called "a piece of material," a symbol of a far larger problem: "The hearts of the people whose minds are so set on the flag remaining - their hearts need to be changed.” Dr. Lonnie Randolph, head of the NAACP South Carolina chapter, argued hate groups like the Klan remain "as common as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and racism in America,” adding, “America is still a racist nation. South Carolina is still a racist state...We’re in denial."

The most enduring image of the day's often dramatic confrontations belonged to A.P. photographer Rob Godfrey. With temperatures reaching into the high 90s, one older white supremacist wearing a National Socialist t-shirt started to stagger from the heat. He was politely helped, both arms around him, into the shade by police officer Leroy Smith. Who's black.

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Photo by Rob Godfrey/AP

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Activist Malik Stroman

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