Jefferson City. Mo. About 400 people turned out for a Confederate memorial service held Sunday under the rebel battle flag, singing "Dixie" and laying roses at a Confederate monument in Higginsville. Miles to the east, meanwhile, protesters demonstrated their disapproval by marching outside the Missouri Governor's Mansion.
Officials with the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site in Higginsville said the turnout there - four times larger than expected - could be attributed to the return of the Confederate flag. Republican Gov. Matt Blunt ordered a one-day flying of the flag at the historic site to coincide with the memorial service, saying he was acting on the request of a state lawmaker who represents the Higginsville area.
The attention "over that issue caused more people to be aware of the event," site administrator Greta Marshall said after the ceremony.
Those attending the memorial service saluted various Confederate flags and lay roses at a monument to fallen Confederate soldiers. As the service was going on in Higginsville, about 20 demonstrators carrying small American flags marched up and down the sidewalks outside the mansion in Jefferson City, about 90 miles to the east.
Sunday marked the first time the Confederate flag had flown over state property since January 2003, when Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's administration ordered it to come down from the Higginsville site and the Fort Davidson State Historic Site in Pilot Knob.
Leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said they had no problem with the memorial service, just with Blunt's decision to fly the Confederate flag.
"We recognize citizens have a right to honor their ancestors and heroes," said Harold Crumpton, president of the St. Louis branch of the NAACP. "But they don't have the right to use state funds and property to pass on the venom of their symbols of hatred."
About 800 people are buried at the 192-acre Confederate historic site in Higginsville, which formerly served as a state-run Confederate Veterans Home. The annual memorial service is scheduled near the June 3 birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Missouri never joined the Confederacy but was a divided state during the Civil War, with some residents fighting for the Union and others for the Confederacy.