Battle over Confederate symbols continues with Mississippi state flag

(2016) Mississippi is the last state flag to feature the Confederate battle emblem. For some, the Confederate emblem is a symbol of racism that does not represent modern-day Mississippi. Several municipalities in Mississippi removed the state flag from government property in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting that left nine African-American churchgoers dead.

State lawmakers proposed 21 laws both to make it happen and to prevent it. None of the legislation made it out of committee. Instead, a proclamation designating April as Confederate Heritage Month was issued.

Activists held a “Take It Down America” rally in front of the U.S. Capitol to bring attention to a federal lawsuit arguing the flag incites racial violence and infringes upon the 14th Amendment protections for black residents.

To many southerners, the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride that's been misappropriated by hate groups. Some say it's only a matter of time before the symbol is removed.

The Flag is not evil: The debate began in the civil rights era. The Charleston shooting revived the discussion nationwide amid evidence that the massacre was racially motivated. Images showed accused shooter Dylann Roof with the Confederate battle flag. Flag supporters were quick to condemn Roof and any acts of violence carried out in the name of their heritage.

Mississippi state legislative proposals ranged from appointing a commission to design a new flag to making the Magnolia flag, which preceded the current design, a second official flag. On the other side of the debate, lawmakers proposed requiring the state flag be flown on government property and withholding public funds from public colleges and universities that don't display the flag.

History Deserves Study: State flags are regarded as symbols of the state and its residents. Mississippians on both sides of the debate believe it's an issue to be resolved by state residents, not outsiders.

Gov. Bryant has said that it should be decided by the people in a vote. In a 2001 referendum, 65% of Mississippians voted to keep the Confederate emblem.

Bryant’s explanation for Confederate Heritage Month offers some insight into his views on Confederate legacy. "Gov. Bryant believes Mississippi's history deserves study and reflection, no matter how unpleasant or complicated parts of it may be," spokesman Clay Chandler said in February, "Like the proclamation says, gaining insight from our mistakes and successes will help us move forward."

Anything Can Be Hateful: The Confederate battle emblem has been on the state flag since 1894. The symbolic undertones were apparent during the Reconstruction era, when Jim Crow laws that codified segregation were instituted across the South.

Supporters of the 1894 flag say it honors those who fought for the Confederacy, not the Ku Klux Klan and hate groups that have appropriated it for their own causes. Many who fought under the Confederate banner were fighting for their land, their families and their homes, not explicitly for the cause of slavery, said Allen of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "The flag has been misused over years to support causes of hate groups. Yes, the KKK used it. But by saying that because hate groups used it we should get rid of it, by that logic we should get rid of the U.S. flag and the Christian cross since the KKK used them, too."

Seizing an Opportunity: In October, the University of Mississippi student government asked the school administration to take down the flag. The administration agreed.

"I understand the flag represents tradition and honor to some. But to others, the flag means that some members of the Ole Miss family are not welcomed or valued," then-Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks said. "Our state needs a flag that speaks to who we are. It should represent the wonderful attributes of state that unite us, not those that still divide us."

Others have a heritage, too: Senator John Horhn, who is African-American, said: "Racism is still very much a part of the fabric of Mississippi." The inclusion of a Confederate symbol like the flag is an insult to most African-Americans in the state, who make up 38% of the population.

"I understand that some people might see the flag as part of their heritage. Others have a heritage, too, and that flag contradicts a lot of feelings about what our heritage ought to be."

Source: Battle over Confederate symbols continues with Mississippi state flag
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