I want to tell you two stories.
The first story takes place on June 7, 1998, in Jasper, Texas. A man was murdered. This man, an African American named James Byrd, was walking home from a party. During his walk, three white men approached him and offered him a ride home.
James innocently accepted. He had no idea that he would never make it home.
The three men took him to a secluded area and brutally attacked him. They chained his legs to the back of their truck and dragged him for more than three miles. When they finally stopped the truck, James was dead, his body in pieces. His head and right arm had been severed from his body.
This horrific hate crime resulted in the arrests of the three men. The first one to go to trial, John William King, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He had several tattoos: a lynching of a black man on a cross, the Nazi swastika, the words "Aryan Pride" and the Confederate flag. The second story takes place on June 7, 2015. A young white man named Dylann Roof entered an African American church in Charleston, S.C., where parishioners were attending Bible study.
As these innocent churchgoers prayed and worshiped, they had no idea that the young man they welcomed into their church came there with the intention of killing them all.
Roof caught them by surprise as he took out his handgun and shot nine innocent people to death. During the investigation of this terrible crime, several photographs of Dylann Roof posing with the Confederate flag, along with the Nazi code for "Heil Hitler," were uncovered.
The Jackson Free Press revealed to the world in February 2016 that Gov. Bryant had declared April "Confederate Heritage Month," but with no mention of slavery.
This is the legacy of the Confederate symbol. This symbol is found in places of death, and it is often comfortably surrounded by other symbols of hate. This is the reason why several Mississippi universities championed the removal of the Mississippi state flag from their campuses. It's because this flag is decorated with an emblem that represents murder and injustice.
These brave universities recognize that symbols matter, and no university or state would sanction or allow Nazi flags and symbols to fly on their campus.
It's time for us all to recognize that the Confederate symbol and the Nazi symbol are one and the same. They originate from different countries, but their stature in terms of hate, intolerance and bigotry are frighteningly comparable.
Mississippi is the last state in the union to fly the Confederate stars and bars—the last state. This means that 49 other states recognize it for what it is. They have all denounced it; and now their eyes are on Mississippi, watching and waiting to see how we deal with this important issue.
Why do our state-elected officials insist on remaining true to a heritage of slavery, lynching, rape and inhumanity?
In their own words, Confederate leaders explain secession, the Civil War and their views about black people.
Our governor, Phil Bryant, defiant and unwilling to compromise, has even declared the month of April to be "Confederate Heritage Month." How does he justify this stance before the American public? He can't. He wouldn't even attempt to, because there is no way to justify his great appreciation for such a symbol of division and intolerance.
When will our lawmakers take a stand for justice, instead of hiding in the shadows of inequality?
I've said it before, and I will continue to say it until everyone listens: The Confederate symbol is neither noble nor righteous. It represents bigotry, hatred and murder. We as Mississippians must come together and show the world that we stand firm against intolerance. Our state can't move forward unless we're first willing to take a stand.
We must support our universities who have stepped up to the plate and decided to fight for what they know is right. We have to let them know that we stand with them and that we thank them for their important decision.
Let's make sure they know that they don't stand alone.
We stand with anyone who stands against hate. This must become the new heritage of Mississippi. We have the opportunity to drive a national conversation and lead at the forefront in the struggle against intolerance.
The ball is in our court, Mississippi. It's time for us to stand together.
Duvalier Malone is the CEO and founder of Duvalier Malone Enterprises. Read more about the Mississippi flag debate here.