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Proposed effort could revive Mississippi’s rebel-themed flag

The Mississippi state flag is lowered from the state Capitol Building during a ceremony in Jackson, Mississippi, on July 1, 2020. (Alan Chin/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Some Mississippi residents are rebelling against the Legislature’s decision to retire a Confederate-themed state flag, and they are being encouraged by conservative legislators who fought the change.

Organizers of a group called Let Mississippi Vote said Monday that they are starting an initiative to put the retired flag and three other flag designs on the statewide ballot.

“What the legislators did, in my opinion, was 100% wrong,” said the group’s leader, Dan Carr. “We should give the people of Mississippi the right to vote on this flag.”

Getting any initiative
on the ballot requires signatures from more than 106,000 voters, evenly
distributed among the five congressional districts Mississippi used 20
years ago. Most initiatives fail because organizers fall short in
gathering signatures.

Even if this initiative gets to the ballot,
an election could be a year or two away. And, Mississippi might have a
new flag before then.

A commission is already working on a flag
design that, by legislative mandate, cannot include the Confederate
battle emblem and must have the phrase, “In God We Trust.”

the law that retired the old flag, the lone design that commissioners
recommend will go on the ballot this November. If voters accept the
design, it will become the new state flag. If they reject it, the
commission will come up with a new design that will go on a later

For now, Mississippi is a state without a flag.

The banner that legislators retired in late June was the last state flag
in the U.S. with the Confederate emblem that’s broadly condemned as
racist. Leaders from business, education, religion and sports —
including, notably, the Southeastern Conference — pressured Mississippi
to ditch the flag amid the context of widespread protests against racial
injustice after Minneapolis police killed a Black man, George Floyd.

had used the same Confederate-themed flag since 1894, when white
supremacists in the Legislature set the design amid backlash to
political power that African Americans gained during Reconstruction. The
state Supreme Court
ruled in 2000 that the flag lacked official status because when state
laws were updated in 1906, sections dealing with the flag were not
carried forward.

A group held contentious public hearings about
the flag in late 2000, and legislators put the issue up for a 2001
statewide election rather than setting a flag design themselves. Voters
in 2001 chose to keep the old flag, rejecting an alternate that would
have replaced the Confederate canton with a blue square topped by stars
representing Mississippi as the 20th state.

Carr, a Gulfport
pastor and businessman, said Monday that legislators set a precedent by
setting a flag election nearly 20 years ago, and he believes they have
now silenced people’s voices. The four choices proposed by the
initiative are the 1894 flag, a bicentennial flag featuring the state
seal, a “hospitality flag” designed by Jackson artist Laurin Stennis and
the new design that will be recommended by the flag commission.

Smith, a medical laboratory scientist from Tupelo, will be the
initiative sponsor. She said Monday that legislators “snagged away” what
she considers the right of the people to vote on a flag.

“We are not going to go quietly whenever we feel like our rights are being encroached upon,” Smith said.

At least three Republican legislators attended a rally
outside the state Capitol on Saturday for people who oppose retiring
the old flag without a statewide vote. One of them, Sen. Chris McDaniel,
said Monday that people want multiple choices in a flag election.

“An election where there’s only one option really isn’t an election at all,” McDaniel said.

after 2001, the Confederate-themed flag remained divisive in a state
with a 38% Black population. All eight of Mississippi’s public
universities and a growing number of cities and counties stopped flying
the state flag in recent years.

The public submitted nearly 3,000 designs for a new flag. Commissioners on Friday narrowed that to nine designs,
and they will choose five finalists Tuesday. By early September, they
will agree on a single proposal to put on the Nov. 3 ballot.