Mississippi state flag in front of the state Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. (Credit: AP/Rogelio V. Solis)
The recent escalation of efforts to remove historical tributes to white supremacy — usually in the form of Confederate statues or flags — has been met with virulent, even violent resistance. The most famous example, of course, is the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, when a group of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists descended on the city, nominally to protest the decision to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park. But many anti-racist activists and politicians across the country have been fighting an uphill battle in their attempts to take down public memorials to racist oppression.
Nowhere is the battle harder, or uglier, than in Mississippi, whose government has been so devoted to honoring white supremacy that the state flag, chosen in 1894 during an escalation of racist violence in the region, incorporates the Confederate battle flag in its design. It’s the last state flag to do so directly, after Georgia adopted a new flag in 2003. (Arguably, the flags of Alabama, Arkansas and Florida still contain Confederate symbols, but not the infamous battle flag.)
Ever since Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who fetishized the Confederacy, murdered nine people in a black church in South Carolina in 2016, there has been an uptick in efforts to get the Mississippi flag changed, or at least to convince institutions in the state not to fly it.
On Wednesday, a progressive group called the Mississippi Rising Coalition sued the city of Ocean Springs, just east of Biloxi on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, demanding that the Republican mayor, Shea Dobson, and the all-white city council stop flying the state flag on public property. The previous mayor, Democrat Connie Moran, had not flown the flag and said she could not remember the last time it had been flown. But after Dobson took over, he immediately ordered the flag to be flown again. While he waffled on the issue after facing protests, Dobson ultimately stood aside as the town’s board of aldermen voted to keep it up.
“Under this flag, more than 581 people of color and otherwise have been lynched. This flag represents hate,” TNathan Fairley, a board member of the Mississippi Rising Coalition, said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit.
The group has received threats, including a video threat sent by the Ku Klux Klan, for their efforts to convince the city to take down the flag.
“At least the Klan are not hypocrites,” Curley Clark, the head of the Jackson County NAACP, said during the press conference. “On the other hand, the mayor and the board claim not to be racist, but their actions speak otherwise.”
The choice to fly the state flag, after a lengthy period of not doing so, must be understood in context of the statewide push by progressives, successful in many cases, to …read more