A statue of a Confederate solder stands in the square in downtown Brandon in front of a Mississippi flag containing the controversial Confederate battle symbol. Photo courtesy Trip Burns/File Photo
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Confederate battle emblem still waves on the Mississippi flag and appears in little danger of being erased anytime soon.
The Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans are fighting hard to keep the state flag to honor the Confederacy. Others are fighting back.
Legislators have filed bills that propose to either change the flag that has been used since 1894 or punish schools, universities, local governments or state agencies that refuse to fly it. Leaders say there's little chance any bill will survive because there's no consensus on the issue that generates strong emotions.
Mississippi is the last state with a flag that still includes the battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue tilted cross dotted with 13 white stars.
Critics say the flag symbolizes slavery and segregation and tarnishes a state with a 38 percent black population.
"It's time for Mississippi to move in a new direction," said Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus. "The state that I believe Mississippi can be — that flag is not a representative symbol of it."
Supporters say the flag represents history and heritage — and many say they're tired of attempts to downplay references to the Confederacy.
Republican Rep. Dan Eubanks of Walls, who is white, said that when he went door-to-door campaigning in 2015 in northern Mississippi: "People didn't care about anything except, 'Where do you stand on the flag?' Only one person said, 'Change it.'"
The day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, several people stood on an Interstate 55 bridge in Mississippi holding Trump banners, Mississippi flags and American flags, according to photos on the Facebook page of Delta Flaggers, a group that supports the state banner.
The public display of Confederate symbols has come under widespread debate since the June 2015 slaying of nine black worshippers in a church in a Charleston, South Carolina, by an avowed white supremacist who had posed for photos with the Confederate battle flag. Soon after the massacre, South Carolina lawmakers removed a Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. Several Mississippi political leaders said this state needs to change its flag.
All eight of Mississippi's public universities, several schools and city and county governments have stopped flying the banner because of the Confederate emblem, and the Mississippi flag has also been removed from other places, including a display of state flags outside the Oregon Capitol.
Readers' Designs for New Mississippi Flag #MSFlagDIY
"To describe its symbolism, the 21 stars are there to represent the 21 known tribes native to Mississippi. There are 19 full waving stripes, representing the mighty waters of the Mississippi River as well as our Gulf Coast. The one red stripe is a nod to the original Magnolia Flag and when added to the 19 stripes adjacent, they represent Mississippi as the 20th state."
Mississippi is marking 200 years of statehood, and the state Chamber of Commerce has distributed hundreds of bicentennial banners that some businesses are flying instead of the state flag. The banner has no Confederate images.
Tuesday is the deadline for Mississippi legislative committees to pass or kill flag bills. House Rules Chairman Jason White, R-West, said without broad agreement on some sort of flag proposal, "I'm not willing to spend political capital on that."
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the flag had not been officially recognized by state law since code books were updated in 1906. In the fall of 2000, a flag commission held several contentious hearings. Legislators put the matter to a statewide vote in April 2001. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, voters chose the old flag over an alternative that would have displayed circles of stars representing Mississippi as the 20th state.
Longtime state Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, served on the flag commission in 2000.
"I got death threats and everything else," Burton said last week.
He now chairs the Senate Rules Committee and, like White, said he is not willing to ask lawmakers to vote on any sort of flag bill this year. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said that if the flag design is to be reconsidered, it should be done by another statewide referendum.