Mississippi Holds on to State Flag with Confederate Symbol | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mississippi Holds on to State Flag with Confederate Symbol

Mississippi has the last state flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem—a red field topped by a blue tilted cross dotted with 13 white stars. The flag has been used since 1894. About two-thirds of the people who voted in the 2001 election voted to keep the design, a margin that roughly reflected the proportion of white to black residents.

Mississippi has the last state flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem—a red field topped by a blue tilted cross dotted with 13 white stars. The flag has been used since 1894. About two-thirds of the people who voted in the 2001 election voted to keep the design, a margin that roughly reflected the proportion of white to black residents. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — White supremacists waved the Confederate battle flag amid weekend violence in Virginia, prompting critics to say Mississippi should remove the symbol from its state banner.

Critics said the same thing two years ago after an avowed white supremacist killed black worshippers in South Carolina, and nothing changed.

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The same leaders who control Mississippi flag legislation remain in office, with the Republican governor and lieutenant governor still saying flag design should be determined by a statewide election.

"Hatred resides in a person's heart, and I doubt the presence of an altered flag makes someone more hateful than they would have been," Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday. "Mississippians voted to keep the state flag in 2001. If voters want to revisit the issue, they can, but a Legislature or governor should not unilaterally override the vote of the people."

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The Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans are fighting hard to keep the state flag to honor the Confederacy. Others are fighting back.

Mississippi has the last state flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue tilted cross dotted with 13 white stars. The flag has been used since 1894. About two-thirds of the people who voted in the 2001 election voted to keep the design, a margin that roughly reflected the proportion of white to black residents.

The flag's supporters, including members of Sons of Confederate Veterans, say the banner represents history and heritage. Opponents say the Confederate emblem is a racist symbol that harkens to slavery and segregation, and that it presents a distasteful image of the state.

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Since July 2015, JFP readers have submitted designs for a new Mississippi Flag.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus hold about one-third of the legislative seats. The caucus chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes of Gulfport, said she wants the Confederate emblem erased from the Mississippi flag, either by a vote of the Legislature or by executive order of the governor.

"The horrific terrorist actions that have taken place in both South Carolina two years ago and Charlottesville, Virginia, a few days ago should shake the souls of our leaders to take action on the flag of this state," Williams Barnes said Tuesday. "What will it take? We should do something now before the blood stains are on Mississippi soil."

Several cities and counties and all eight of Mississippi's public universities have stopped flying the state flag because of the Confederate emblem.

The Republican speaker of the state House, Philip Gunn, said after the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre in 2015 that Mississippi should change its flag to a design that could unite, rather than divide, the state. However, Gunn has said since then there's no consensus in the House to advance any of several redesign proposals. Flag supporters have countered with proposals to withhold some money from universities that refuse to fly the banner; those, too, have failed in the House.

Both of Mississippi's Republican U.S. senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, have said the current flag should be relegated to a museum and a new design adopted. So has Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the only black member of the state's congressional delegation. But that has brought scorn from flag supporters, who say officials want to erase history.

State Rep. David Baria, a Democrat, said Mississippi's economy is hurt and the state is divided by a flag that includes the rebel image carried by the Ku Klux Klan. He said the flag needs to change, and not by a statewide election.

"My proposal is that the Legislature just man up and do it," Baria said. "I think that the tide is changing."

Read JFP's archives of historically factual stories about slavery, secession, the Civil War in Mississippi, Confederate monuments, the state flag and more at jfp.ms/slavery.

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