The efficacy of voting vs. mostly-peaceful rioting
Mississippi voters speak
In 2001 Mississippi voters overwhelmingly decided to keep their flag as is.
Earl Faggert, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said when he looks at the flag, “I see honor, duty, courage, sacrifice, loyalty and devotion. I knew the people of Mississippi felt strongly about their flag and their heritage,” he said. “They’ve spoken very loudly and very clearly to all of us.”
Some African-American residents said they were not offended by the Confederate symbol, or felt officials should devote their time and state funds to more important issues.
The mostly-peaceful rioters speak
In 2020 with a stroke of the governor’s pen, Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem
[Retiring the Mississippi Flag] was still broadly considered too volatile for legislators to touch, until the police custody death of an African American man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, set off weeks of sustained protests against racial injustice, followed by calls to take down Confederate symbols.
By ABC News / January 7, 2006, 10:13 AM
April 18, 2001 — To some, it’s a symbol of racism and hatred.
But to the majority of Mississippi voters, it’s a piece of history, and one worth preserving in the state’s controversial flag.
On Tuesday, voters in the state overwhelmingly decided to keep their flag as is — with the stars and bars in the upper left corner — making it the last state in the union to wave the rebel symbol over its Statehouse.
Just Cloth on a Stick?
Attorney Greg Stewart helped lead the effort to preserve the flag.
“It’s just a piece of cloth that flies on a stick, and certainly that is a decision that even the most common citizen can have an opinion about and they’re entitled to have that opinion,” he said.
But others said they would continue to fight the flag.
“It’s not over,” vowed Deborah Denard of the NAACP chapter in Jackson, Miss. “We’re not going away.”
But Stewart said he doubted it would come up for a vote again.
“I don’t think there’ll be any support in Mississippi to bring this up again,” Stewart said. “I can’t see it, even among the people who originally pushed the proposed pattern. They had a good shot, they gave it a good college try. It’s over.”
Voters had two choices: keep the current flag, adopted in 1894, with the Confederate emblem of 13 white stars on a blue X, or adopt a new flag with 20 white stars on a blue square, to symbolize Mississippi’s role as the 20th state.
Economic Argument for Change
The Confederate symbol has sparked an emotional debate inside the state and out. Advocates argued it is a crucial part of the state’s heritage that should continue to have a prominent space in the flag.
Earl Faggert, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said when he looks at the flag, “I see honor, duty, courage, sacrifice, loyalty and devotion.”
Faggert, obviously, was pleased with the outcome.
“I knew the people of Mississippi felt strongly about their flag and their heritage,” he said. “They’ve spoken very loudly and very clearly to all of us.”
But others saw the emblem as symbol of Mississippi’s slave-holding and segregationist past.
“I see discrimination, Jim Crow laws,” said Denard.
Georgia and South Carolina addressed similar controversies last year. In those states, politicians were able to reach a compromise. But in Mississippi, the issue was put directly to the people in today’s referendum.
Some advocates for change had argued the debate over the flag was not only about history or race relations, but also about economics. George Shelton of the Mississippi Legacy Fund said the state must change its image if it wants to attract investors and tourists.
“This is our chance to show the world what progress we’ve made and cast some of those old myths aside,” Shelton said before the vote, suggesting that the Confederate symbol and its association scares away investors.
Blake Wilson of the Mississippi Economic Council, who also helped lead the effort to preserve the flag, said he did in fact expect and economic backlash against the state — but added that it could be overcome.
“It does set us back and I think it’s not insurmountable,” said Wilson “I think it’s something that we can overcome by pulling together and by telling people the other positive things that are happening in Mississippi.”
Many Concerned With Other Issues
The drive to change the flag may have failed partly because the debate did not divide along racial lines as sharply as expected. Some African-American residents said they were not offended by the Confederate symbol, or felt officials should devote their time and state funds to more important issues.
The vote on the flag cost Mississippi more than $2 million, and people wondered how the poorest state in the union can justify spending so much money to change a symbol.
“I think it’s more important to pay attention to the education system in Mississippi than the flag,” said one African-American resident of Vicksburg, which was besieged by Union forces in one of the pivotal battles of the Civil War.
Another resident argued the people were trying to use the flag debate to solve racism — a problem that would not be erased by a mere vote.
“I don’t think the flag is the concern,” the man said. “I’m concerned more with the hearts and minds of people. A piece of cloth with stars on it ain’t going to change nothing.”
ABCNEWS’ Jeffrey Kofman in Vicksburg contributed to this report.
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS Associated Press /Jun 30, 2020
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — With a stroke of the governor’s pen, Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem — a symbol that’s widely condemned as racist.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed the historic bill Tuesday at the Governor’s Mansion, immediately removing official status for the 126-year-old banner that has been a source of division for generations.
“This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together, to be reconciled and to move on,” Reeves said on live TV just before the signing. “We are a resilient people defined by our hospitality. We are a people of great faith. Now, more than ever, we must lean on that faith, put our divisions behind us, and unite for a greater good.”
Mississippi has faced increasing pressure to change its flag since protests against racial injustice have focused attention on Confederate symbols in recent weeks.
A broad coalition of legislators on Sunday passed the landmark legislation to change the flag, capping a weekend of emotional debate and decades of effort by Black lawmakers and others who see the rebel emblem as a symbol of hatred.
Among the small group of dignitaries witnessing the bill signing were Reuben Anderson, who was the first African American justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, serving from 1985 to 1991; Willie Simmons, a current state Transportation Commissioner who is the first African American elected to that job; and Reena Evers-Everette, daughter of civil rights icons Medgar and Myrlie Evers.
Medgar Evers, a Mississippi NAACP leader, was assassinated in the family’s driveway in 1963. Myrlie Evers was national chairwoman of the NAACP in the mid-1990s and is still living.
“That Confederate symbol is not who Mississippi is now. It’s not what it was in 1894, either, inclusive of all Mississippians,” Evers-Everette said after the ceremony. “But now we’re going to a place of total inclusion and unity with our hearts along with our thoughts and in our actions.”
Reeves used several pens to sign the bill. As he completed the process, a cheer could be heard from people outside the Governor’s Mansion who were watching the livestream broadcast on their phones. Reeves handed the pens to lawmakers and others who had worked on the issue.
The Confederate battle emblem has a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. White supremacist legislators put it on the upper-left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894, as white people were squelching political power that African Americans had gained after the Civil War.
Critics have said for generations that it’s wrong for a state where 38% of the people are Black to have a flag marked by the Confederacy, particularly since the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have used the symbol to promote racist agendas.
Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 statewide election, with supporters saying they saw it as a symbol of Southern heritage. But since then, a growing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have abandoned it.
Several Black legislators, and a few white ones, kept pushing for years to change it. After a white gunman who had posed with the Confederate flag killed Black worshipers at a South Carolina church in 2015, Mississippi’s Republican speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, said his religious faith compelled him to say that Mississippi must purge the symbol from its flag.
The issue was still broadly considered too volatile for legislators to touch, until the police custody death of an African American man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, set off weeks of sustained protests against racial injustice, followed by calls to take down Confederate symbols.
A groundswell of young activists, college athletes and leaders from business, religion, education and sports called on Mississippi to make this change, finally providing the momentum for legislators to vote.
Before the bill signing Tuesday, state employees raised and lowered several of the flags on a pole outside the Capitol. The secretary of state’s office sells flags for $20 each, and a spokeswoman said there has been a recent increase in requests.
During recent news conferences, Reeves refused to say whether he thought the Confederate-themed flag properly represents present-day Mississippi, sticking to a position he ran on last year, when he promised that if the flag design was going to be reconsidered, it would be done in another statewide election.
Now, a commission will design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve it in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will draft a different design using the same guidelines, to be sent to voters later.
Reeves said before signing over the flag’s demise, “We are all Mississippians and we must all come together. What better way to do that than include ‘In God We Trust’ on our new state banner.”
He added: “The people of Mississippi, black and white, and young and old, can be proud of a banner that puts our faith front and center. We can unite under it. We can move forward — together.”
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.