TUPELO • Now in the final days of its 126-year tenure as the state flag, city leaders on Monday removed Mississippi’s controversial banner from municipal properties, including a prominent location in front of City Hall in Fairpark.
The Tupelo City Council met that afternoon in a special call meeting and unanimously voted to remove the state flag and retire it to the Oren Dunn Museum.
A crowd of people gathered around Fairpark to celebrate the historic moment, many with tears streaming down their faces.
“This means love, unity, togetherness and caring for every citizen in this community,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis, the lone Black woman on the council.
The council’s Monday vote also removes the flag from the council chambers and from city parks. The flag has long been viewed by critics as a symbol of racism and oppression for Black citizens, which make up almost 40% of the state’s population.
The removal of the flag in Tupelo comes one day after the Mississippi Legislature voted to begin the adoption of a new flag, but the council’s decision was announced last Friday when the final outcome of the legislature’s action still remained uncertain.
Mayor Jason Shelton told the Daily Journal that he was glad the council’s actions coincided with the actions of state lawmakers.
“I think the winds of change are upon us for the state of Mississippi,” Shelton said. “I’m excited to be a part of this historical change in the city of Tupelo.”
Nearly two weeks ago, a majority of the council said that they were opposed to removing the former state flag from public buildings. Now, they unanimously decided to remove the flag.
Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan told the Daily Journal that he and other council members decided to change the flag because it was the “right time to do it.”
“We said if we were going to do it, now’s the time to do it. So we did,” Bryan said. “With the Legislature doing it, it just makes it better for the whole state.”
In 2018, the Tupelo City Council allowed Shelton to remove a state flag from the police department headquarters but then approved an ordinance requiring it to be flown at City Hall and some other locations in the city. That ordinance passed on a 4-3 vote, with Lynn Bryan, Davis and the other Black Democrat on the council, Willie Jennings, voting against it.
Last week, the four council members who voted in favor of that ordinance cited the rapidly growing opposition to the state flag as compelling them to reverse their previous decision.
At the Oren Dunn museum, the flag is expected to be displayed in the future alongside historical context.
The Rev. Chris Traylor, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, told the Daily Journal that he is appreciative of local and state leaders’ efforts to do away with the “divisive” flag.
“I hope this right here, that this does not divide us worse, but that this will bring more love and more unity to our community,” Traylor said.