It took the murder of nine black worshippers at the historically black Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for the state to officially remove the Confederate battle flag from state-house grounds. Using this tragedy to incite change in their own state, this Sunday demonstrators in Mississippi rallied to remove the Confederate “Stars and Bars” from their own state flag.
Around 300 people gathered at the One Flag For All rally near Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi’s state flag has a widely recognized Confederate symbol in the top left corner, the same Confederate symbol that South Carolina shooter Dylann Roof posted in his Facebook pictures. Sharon Brown, the woman who proposed a state initiative to remove the symbol, said that the movement was meant to push for a flag that represents all of the people in the state rather than a minority.
Rally participants walked one and half miles from the Jackson State University campus to the Mississippi State Capitol building. Rapper David Banner, civil rights activist Myrlie Evers and Jenny Horne,the South Carolina representative who was instrumental in the removal of the flag in South Carolina, joined in the march.
Banner spoke to the marchers before they left and stated that the new flag is partly about Mississippi’s children.
“We’re going to have to draw a line,” Banner said. “Are you Confederate, which stands for slavery, or are you Southern? I’m Southern until the day I die. For me it’s more about these kids, every time those kids look up at that flag, it’s something that makes them duck their heads.”
The flag in question has roots in the late 19th century and has proven contentious decades before Sunday’s demonstration. Resurrected in parts of the South in protest of the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement, John Hawkins, University of Mississippi’s first black cheerleader, refused to wave or distribute flags with the Confederate symbol at Ole Miss football games in 1983. Aaron Henry, a member of the Mississippi Legislature and president of the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP, introduced a bill in 1988 to remove the symbol in the top left corner of the state flag. The bill never made it to the floor for a vote, nor did the bills he introduced in 1990, 1992 and 1993.
The Mississippi NAACP filed a lawsuit to remove the symbol in 1993, and the case made it to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The court ruled that the flag may be offensive to some citizens, but it “does not deprive any citizen of any constitutionally protected right.” Therefore, the flag must be changed by the legislative or executive branches of the state government.
“There’s a lot Mississippi can learn from what we did in South Carolina, so they don’t have to have a tragedy to make them do the right thing,” Horne said at the One Flag For All rally. “It’s unfortunate that it took such a senseless act of violence. You shouldn’t need that in Mississippi. It’s really sad that it’s 2015, and it took a tragedy to make us do this.”