Confederate Flag Divides Mississippi Politicians | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Confederate Flag Divides Mississippi Politicians

In Mississippi, both politicians and public figures are making statements for and against changing the state flag, some claiming that it's an issue that voters already addressed in a 2001 referendum. Photo courtesy Flickr/Stuart Seeger

In Mississippi, both politicians and public figures are making statements for and against changing the state flag, some claiming that it's an issue that voters already addressed in a 2001 referendum. Photo courtesy Flickr/Stuart Seeger

In the wake of the Charleston massacre, the nation is questioning South Carolina's Confederate flag, and in turn, looking to Mississippi's state flag that features the symbol.

In Mississippi, both politicians and public figures are making statements for and against changing the state flag, some claiming that it's an issue that voters already addressed in a 2001 referendum. Mississippi voters decided by a 2-to-1 margin to keep the state flag that has been used since 1894, but that referendum was 14 years ago, and some politicians are saying it's high time for a second look.

Politicians:

House Speaker Philip Gunn was the first top-tier Republican to call for a change in the flag, which has had the Confederate symbol in the upper left corner since Reconstruction. "We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," Gunn, a leader in his local Baptist church, said in a statement. "As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday repeated his long-held position that the state should keep the flag as is.

"A vast majority of Mississippians voted to keep the state's flag, and I don't believe the Mississippi Legislature will act to supersede the will of the people on this issue," Bryant said in a statement.

Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, issued the following statement this afternoon concerning the state flag of Mississippi:

"I believe any state flag should be a common symbol citizens can unite behind and proudly embrace as their own. If our flag is no longer useful for those purposes (to instill pride and unity across the broad spectrum of citizens), then we should reconsider its current status. I certainly agree with Speaker Gunn that the time has come to have that conversation."

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves released this statement on the state flag yesterday:

"What happened in Charleston is simply pure irrational evil. There is no other description for this monster's actions. He is an individual that has allowed his mind and soul to be horribly twisted and disfigured by irrational hate. No symbol or flag or website or book or movie made him evil - he was evil on his own.

"Flags and emblems are chosen by a group of people as a symbol of all that unites and ties the group together. The good and bad in our shared history, and all that we have learned from it, is something that ties us together.

"The same discussion South Carolinians are having now is one that Mississippians had 14 years ago when nearly two-thirds of our state voted to keep our current flag. If the citizens of our state want to revisit that decision, and I am sure at some point we may, it will best be decided by the people of Mississippi, not by outsiders or media elites or politicians in a back room."

Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, said that the flag should change. "You've got to ask yourself the question: What would Jesus do in this circumstance?" Hood told The Associated Press. "When it is something that is offensive to at least one-third of our population, we ought to at least consider what we're doing."

Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the Confederate emblem is a "symbol of hatred" often associated with racial violence. Jones said the flag represents the power structure's resistance to change during the 1960s and '70s, when civil rights activists were pushing to dismantle segregation and expand voting rights.

"We should be constantly re-examining these types of stereotypes that label our state for what it used to be a long time ago," Jones told The Associated Press.

Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, released the following statement regarding calls to do away with Mississippi's official state flag.

"I disagree with those advocating for change to the state flag of Mississippi. The tragedy in South Carolina was a horrific and senseless act that displayed the very worst of mankind. I was deeply saddened by the tragedy. But more importantly, my heart was moved by the love and kindness of those who faced this evil and forgave. The example of Christian love shown by the victims and their families should stand above all other lessons we hope to learn from this tragedy.

But we should not allow this tragic event to be used to promote political agendas. We are only empowering the actions of those with ill-intent if we allow them to hijack symbols with one original meaning and use them for another meaning that promotes the purpose of hate and evil. Yielding to evil, no matter the political intention, only perpetuates the problem.

Mississippi has dealt more openly on the issue of race than any other state in the country and we have the scars to show for it. We do a terrible disservice to future generations when we refuse to be honest about our history and when we allow others who neither know nor care about our people to be the self-appointed arbiters of what is and is not a civilized discussion on the topic.

The people of Mississippi understood this clearly when we decided this issue in 2001 in a referendum, and the people chose to keep the current flag. The will of the people of the state was made very clear. As an elected official I support that decision."

U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-MS, announced his intent to introduce a Rule IX Privileged Resolution on the House floor:

“Today, I announced my intention to introduce a Privileged Resolution pursuant to Rule IX of the Rules of the House of Representatives. The resolution will require the Speaker of the House to remove all imagery of the Confederate battle flag being displayed in the House of Representatives. This would include the confederate imagery within Mississippi’s state flag.

“The House of Representatives now has two legislative days within which to consider the Resolution.

“It is my sincere hope that the Speaker and the body of the House of Representatives will recognize the changing tide in the country and remove this symbol of hate and intolerance from the halls of Congress.

Earlier Thompson released the following statement regarding the ongoing national debate on the confederate battle flag:

"I am pleased that South Carolina elected officials including my good friend Jim Clyburn stood together against the hate and backwards thinking represented by the confederate battle flag and made the first step to remove this controversial relic of history from their state capitol.

"It is time for Mississippi leaders to do the same. I was heartened by the words of Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn who stepped out against what had become conventional wisdom in his party and recognized the offensive nature of the confederate battle flag and urged that it be removed. I support his efforts and urge other Mississippi legislators and elected officials to follow his lead.

"Mississippi is the sole state with an actual depiction of the confederate battle flag in its state flag. This flag is not just some piece of cloth that bears no importance; it is the physical manifestation of a time of hate, oppression and slavery that split this country at its seams. It also serves as a barrier around the entire State of Mississippi telling everyone else in this country that progress is not welcomed here.

"I love the state where I have lived my entire life but I will not offend the constituents who come to my office by having this symbol of intolerance greet them at the door. I look forward to the opportunity to work with Speaker Gunn and other well-meaning Mississippians to make sure that we all have a flag in Mississippi that is more in line with the state's "hospitality state" moniker and less grounded in the past.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-MS, became the second top-tier Republican elected official calling for Mississippi to change the flag it has used since Reconstruction. "After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians," Wicker said in a news release. "As the descendant of several brave Americans who fought for the Confederacy, I have not viewed Mississippi's current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others."

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, followed Wicker's lead and issued the following statement regarding the state flag of Mississippi.

“As a proud citizen of Mississippi, it is my personal hope that the state government will consider changing the state flag. The recent debate on the symbolism of our flag, which belongs to all of us, presents the people of our state an opportunity to consider a new banner that represents Mississippi. I appreciate the views of my friend and colleague Roger Wicker, and agree that we should look for unity and not divisiveness in the symbols of our state.”

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, released the following statement regarding calls to do away with Mississippi's official state flag.

"The price we pay to live in a free society is to occasionally be offended. A cultural or historical cleansing of all things potentially offensive will do nothing to alleviate the problems caused by racism. To pretend otherwise is a disservice to serious discourse on the subject. We must examine our hearts and not resort to placing emotional blame for problems we face on symbols such as a flag.

I love all Mississippians, regardless of race or political affiliation. We are a family. But I disagree with those who use political correctness to silence differing viewpoints. I likewise believe it is in poor taste to use the tragic South Carolina massacre to promote a political agenda. I understand, very well, both sides of the debate. Slavery is our nation's original sin, and government sanctioned discrimination is evil. As a strong proponent of individual rights, I will always defend individuals against the abuses of government and fight for liberty by insisting government's reach remain limited.

However, at the end of the day, political correctness is about power; consequently, its practitioners will never be appeased. They won't stop until dissent is crushed and tolerance of opposing viewpoints is no longer accepted. I will not be a part of such an agenda. The people of Mississippi have already decided this issue, by referendum. I will respect their wishes."

Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch and Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, released a joint statement calling for a change in the state flag.

“Last year the Mississippi legislature changed the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi to add ‘In God We Trust’ to that historic symbol of our state. It recognizes our very real and historic recognition of a God who created all men equal and whose divine providence has shaped America and Mississippi.”

“We believe it is time to change another historic symbol of our state, because we recognize that many of our citizens feel it is hurtful and represents a time and perspective that did not respect equality.”

“For too long we have engaged in endless debates between heritage and hate. We believe we should find a compromise that embraces history and healing. We look forward to working together in the legislature on a better way to represent Mississippi with our official flag.”

“There will be people of faith; both Republican and Democrat; both black and white; who will disagree with our position. We do not question their hearts, but we believe we must find a healing compromise to get past these disagreements and find common ground solutions on improving education, inviting job creation and making our communities safe and prosperous.”

On his Facebook page, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-MS, wrote:

"The people of Mississippi, not outsiders, should continue to be able to choose for themselves the flag that flies over the State of Mississippi. I believe our state is more than capable of handling this issue with dignity and respect."

From Public Figures, Organizations:

The Jackson Free Press received this letter to the editor this morning via our web comment form and confirmed it's from Mississippi resident Dan Jones, former Chancellor of the University of Mississippi:

"I join my voice to that of others encouraging a change in our state flag. My life experience has offered many opportunities for conversations with many people from all walks of life about our state flag and other symbols of the Confederacy. It is clear to me that symbols matter. It is time to change this one. To my friends who point out the protection offered by our nation's constitution to express ourselves freely, I point out the sentiment from Holy Scripture that calls on each of us to give up our own rights for the sake of others. These thoughts are offered from me individually and not representing any organization."

Russell Moore, a Mississippi native who serves as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in his blog Friday that the Confederate flag — including the emblem on the Mississippi state flag — should be retired. He said its connection with the "great evil" of slavery makes it incompatible with Christianity. "White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them," Moore wrote. "The gospel frees us from scrapping for our 'heritage' at the expense of others."

The University of Mississippi's Acting Chancellor Morris H. Stocks just issued this verbatim statement: "The University of Mississippi community came to the realization years ago that the confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values such as civility and respect for others. Since that time, we have become a stronger and better university. We join other leaders in our state who are calling for a change in the state flag."

This list will be updated as more statements are issued. Statements curated from press releases issued by politicians' offices.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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