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updated 12/4/2003 6:50:13 PM ET 2003-12-04T23:50:13

A historically black university has put aside its objections and will march in Albany’s Christmas parade, even though it will also feature a Civil War re-enactment group carrying a Confederate flag.

MAYOR TOMMY COLEMAN announced Thursday that the Albany State University band had agreed to participate after about a week of negotiations. Band director Michael Decuir had said his musicians would not march because he had a “philosophical problem” with the flag.

“It’s been a trying experience for the community,” Coleman said. “It’s supposed to be a unifying thing during Christmas, not a divisive issue.”

The controversy surfaced when the parade organizer became aware of the university’s concerns and told the re-enactors they could not participate because they lacked a Christmas theme.

Coleman, an attorney who specializes in governmental affairs, said that decision was probably a violation of the re-enactors’ constitutional right to freedom of expression. He pointed out that many groups in the parade, such as bands and military formations, wear uniforms that also have no Christmas theme.

“All this was done unilaterally by people who are not decision makers,” he said. “It was an error of judgment. They had a constitutional right to be in the parade and ASU had a constitutional right not to participate.”

Coleman said there had been a perception that the university pressured the city to exclude the re-enactors. “That didn’t happen,” he said.

Now that the issue has been resolved, Coleman said he was relying on the “good wishes of the people” to make the parade a success Saturday night.

Harry Robertson, a spokesman for the re-enactors, said his group would march, as they have been doing since the first parade in 1990, with a Confederate flag.

“It’s good that people can disagree and still be reasonable,” he said.

Confederate flags have been igniting passions throughout the South, with supporters arguing that they are a symbol of regional heritage and opponents condemning them as a symbol of slavery and bigotry. In Georgia, the Confederate battle flag was dropped from the state flag.

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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