Mississippi lawmakers push ahead with proposal to take down state flag

The flag has been the target of opposition that crosses racial, partisan and cultural divides. PHOTO: AFP

JACKSON (NYTIMES) - A flag stamped with a defiant tribute to Mississippi's Confederate past has been raised on the grounds of the state Capitol for well over a century.

It flew when the Civil War was not yet distant history and when segregation was fiercely enforced by law. Through the fight for civil rights and after remnants of the Confederacy were toppled elsewhere in moments of inflamed racial tension, the flag endured.

But on Saturday (June 27), as the state flag embedded with the blue bars and white stars of the Confederate battle flag flapped from its pole in front of the Capitol, lawmakers gathered inside to wrestle over whether to retire it to history.

Both chambers of the Republican-led Legislature voted, with the support of supermajorities, to push ahead with legislation that would remove the flag and lay the framework for replacing it.

The debate among lawmakers and across the state has been laced with passion, weighted by the generations of pride and pain the flag has long represented. It was in many ways a familiar discussion, one rehashed through decades of disagreement.

Yet as the flag was swept up in the broader convulsions over racial history that were unleashed by the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police, there was a growing sense that this time it was different.

The flag, the only state banner left in the country with an overt Confederate symbol, has been the target of opposition that crosses racial, partisan and cultural divides.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention has called for it to be taken down. So have state associations of real estate agents, bankers, educators and manufacturers. A star football player at Mississippi State University declared that he would not play as long as the flag remained, and Kermit Davis, the University of Mississippi's men's basketball coach, stood with other coaches under the Capitol rotunda and said changing it was "the right thing to do".

"I understand many view the current flag as a symbol of heritage and Southern pride," country music star Faith Hill, a Mississippi native, said in a post on Twitter, "but we have to realise that this flag is a direct symbol of terror for our black brothers and sisters."

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