State flag conversation presents range of opinions
By Emma Crawford
TUPELO – The current debate about Mississippi’s Confederate battle flag emblem echoes the state’s 2001 referendum to remove the symbol from its flag.
The latest round began after Republican Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called the emblem offensive and said it needs to be removed from the state flag.
The 2001 referendum to remove the symbol failed 65 percent to 35 percent.
Pontotoc resident Claude Jones said he is hopeful the conversation, which started in South Carolina following the Charleston church shooting last week, will lead to change this time around.
“Mississippi, today, needs to change its flag,” Jones said. “It has nothing to do with heritage, it has to do with hate.”
Jones, who also was outspoken for the symbol’s removal in 2001, said he does not believe the issue should be turned over to the people again, and the money to have a special election on the issue should not be spent. Rather, he said the Legislature should make a decision.
“It should not have to come to a referendum,” he said. “I think the Legislature ought to just do it.”
The battle flag’s associations vary from Mississippian to Mississippian, and David Horn, camp commander of the Chickasaw Guard Sons of Confederate Veterans in Houston, stands opposite of Jones on that spectrum.
Horn said he does not consider the flag symbolic of racism. He added that while it has been misused by racist groups, the flag honors Mississippi’s heritage and the ancestors of many Mississippians who fought in the Civil War, including black soldiers.
“I certainly don’t see any need to change it. It’s quite an attractive flag. It honors the valor and sacrifice of Mississippi soldiers who served in the Confederate army,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why anyone would be offended by that.”
Because the issue was put to a vote once before, Horn said he does not see the need to bring it up again.
“It’s just unfortunate that this comes up time after time,” he said.
Horn also said he thinks politicians use the flag issue as a means to their own ends, and added he felt it unfortunate the flag has become intertwined with the Charleston shooting.
“That was a tragedy, but that has nothing to do with the Confederate flag,” he said.
For Jake McGraw, whether pro-flag advocates intend for the symbol to be offensive or not, the battle flag translates as divisive and should not be on the state flag if Mississippi wants to become a more unified state.
“It says we are not willing to try to bring about equality,” said the Ole Miss Winter Institute Public Policy coordinator and Rethink Mississippi editor. “It is still by nature an extremely divisive symbol, which defeats the purpose of having a state symbol, which would be to unify people and represent our common values and citizenship.”
McGraw said the Winter Institute’s stance on the issue aligns with its mission of racial justice and equality.
“We’re very clearly supportive of a new flag,” he said. “The Confederate flag has always been a symbol of racial oppression and violence and to put it on the state’s official flag kind of sanctions that history.”
Looking to the future, McGraw said a comprehensive discussion of the issue would be necessary by the Legislature, but removing the symbol is only a step in a larger process of addressing racial inequality and racism.
“This alone is not solving the problem,” he said. “But it’s nearly impossible to solve other problems until we address the flag issue.”
Monica Smith, Tupelo Tea Party member, said she believes the issue remains with the people. She doesn’t think the Legislature should step in to decide the matter.
“We voted on this in 2001. The people have spoken,” she said. “To me, it’s about our rights as individuals.”
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