Mississippi faces reckoning on Confederate emblem in flag

A small Mississippi state flag is held by a participant during a drive-by ‘re-open Mississippi’ protest past the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson on April 25. The Civil War-era Confederate battle flag emblem on the flag has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement.

TUPELO • Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, and Democrats in the state House of Representatives have come out against a proposal to create two official state flags, but deep divisions remain about the future of the Confederate emblem that adorns Mississippi’s banner.

Following a decision Friday by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to bar championship play in the state as long as the Confederate emblem remains, renewed talks began in the legislature about the flag’s future.

However, little consensus exists around direct legislative action to change Mississippi’s flag and adopt a new design. Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, a Clinton Republican, supports this kind of action but Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, and Reeves have said a flag change should only occur by voter referendum.

A proposal to adopt a second state flag in addition to the current flag has periodically surfaced as a potential compromise, but now looks to lack key support.

In a statement issued Monday, Reeves criticized the two-flag proposal as a “separate but equal” approach that will continue to divide the state.

“I don’t think it would satisfy either side of the debate, and I don’t think it is a viable alternative,” Reeves said in a statement.

In the House of Representatives, the Democratic caucus has announced it will also oppose any proposals to create two flags.

However, Democrats are calling for legislative option to replace the current flag with a new one, while Reeves has declined to endorse legislative action to replace the flag..

“Mississippi House Democrats for years have consistently urged the Mississippi Legislature to do its job and make tough decisions in the best interest of the people of this state,” said Rep. Robert L. Johnson III, who leads House Democrats. “The decision to remove the Confederate battle emblem from our state flag is one of those decisions. It is our decision to make, and the time to make it is now.”

But the governor’s Monday morning statement pointed back to the 2001 flag referendum which approved retaining the current flag.

“Over the last several years, I have repeatedly warned my fellow Mississippians that any attempt to change the current Mississippi flag by a few politicians in the Capitol will be met with much contempt,” Reeves said. “If the leadership in 2001 had not put it on the ballot, then the conversation may be different. But they did.”

However, Reeves did on Monday call for “a solution that, once all is said and done, unites us as a people proud of our future.”

The governor did not offer any specific ideas as to what solution he might propose.

The Mississippi Legislature is expected to end its regular session this week, which means that time is quickly running out to advance any legislative action.

Even so, a pair of Northeast Mississippi lawmakers have publicly supported a change to the state flag: Rep. Nick Bain, a Republican from Corinth, and Sen. Nicole Boyd, a Republican from Oxford.

On Twitter Monday, Bain wrote, in part, “Our state is at a point in its history that there is no choice but to retire its current state flag. The impending economic, social and cultural pressures are going to create a storm that this state cannot weather.”

On Sunday, Boyd on Facebook wrote, in part, “Mississippi needs a symbol that represents all Mississippians and is consistent with the values of most Mississippians.”

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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