Justice

The Confederate Flag Is Here To Stay In Mississippi

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

A state flag of Mississippi is unfurled by Sons of Confederate Veterans and other groups on the grounds of the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in support of keeping the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag.

Mississippi’s state flag will include the Confederate battle emblem for the foreseeable future, after state lawmakers on Tuesday said they didn’t have enough support to remove the controversial symbol.

There were 12 different bills in the Mississippi Legislature to either redesign, change, or remove the Confederate symbol from the state’s 122-year-old flag. But they all died on Tuesday, which was the deadline for lawmakers to act on bills that were stuck in legislative committees.

The bills offered numerous different options for Mississippi’s flag. One bill would have changed it to include a magnolia tree, just like the state’s flag did from 1861 until 1865. A few bills would have provided for new design submissions, either from state universities or from a newly-created commission to find new design options. One would have even changed the flag back to the Bonnie Blue Flag, which is also a Confederate-related banner, but less recognizable.

But none of those bills had majority support from lawmakers in either the state House or Senate, Republican Rep. Jason White told the Associated Press. “I’m not saying that all of them are necessarily bad ideas, but we don’t have a consensus on any of them,” he said.

The speaker of Mississippi’s House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Philip Gunn, had previously expressed support for removing the Confederate symbol from the state flag. On Tuesday, he said in a statement that he had “not wavered” on that viewpoint, and has been trying to convince other lawmakers “to adopt my view.”

“I have explored every option from taking legislative action to change the flag to adopting two official flags, but we cannot get a consensus on how to address the issue,” he said. “I will continue to stand by my view that changing the flag is the right thing to do. The flag is going to change.”

The battle of Mississippi’s flag has been raging since June 2015, when a white man murdered nine African Americans at a historically black church in South Carolina. The man, Dylann Roof, frequently donned Confederate symbols and promoted white supremacy.

Longtime civil rights activist Ivnea May-Pittman speaks during the rally to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi flag outside the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.

Longtime civil rights activist Ivnea May-Pittman speaks during the rally to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi flag outside the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.

CREDIT: Charles Smith/AP Images for The Flag for All Mississippians Coalition

Opponents have since fought for removal of the flag from state-owned public spaces, arguing that the banner is inherently racist and shouldn’t be promoted by governments. The flag is a historic emblem of racial intolerance, they argue, as it was flown by pro-slavery rebels both before and after the Civil War. Five states currently have the symbol on their state flags.

Last week, more than 200 people rallied at the Mississippi capitol to demand that the flag be changed.

“It’s time for Mississippi to embrace a new flag that represents unity and progress,” said Sharon Brown, director of the group One Flag for All, which organized the rally. “We can’t achieve our social and economic potential as a state when we have a banner that includes a symbol associated with a civil war that was fought to keep our ancestors in slavery and the legacy of white supremacy and racism.”

There is still significant support in Mississippi for keeping the flag as-is. In January, pro-Confederate groups held their own rally at the state Capitol, also drawing about 200 people. Supporters argued that removing the flag would be “akin to communists rewriting history,” the Associated Press reported.

Mississippi has the highest percentage of African Americans of any state in the country.