Notable Mississippians join chorus to change state flag
5:54 p.m. CDT August 15, 2015
In a letter appearing in a full-page ad in today’s Clarion-Ledger, author John Grisham, actor Morgan Freeman, legendary quarterback Archie Manning, “The Help” author Kathryn Stockett and others are calling for removal of the Confederate emblem from Mississippi’s state flag.
With other states removing their Confederate battle flags, Mississippi remains the last with the Confederate emblem flying over the statehouse.
“It is simply not fair, or honorable, to ask black Mississippians to attend schools, compete in athletic events, work in the public sector, serve in the National Guard, and go about their normal lives with a state flag that glorifies a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved,” the letter says. “It’s time for Mississippi to fly a flag for all its people.”
Former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale and Mississippi business leader Jack Reed Sr. signed the letter. So did music legend Jimmy Buffet, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford, Grammy-winning producer Glen Ballard, Basketball Hall of Famer Bailey Howell, former Gov. William Winter, baseball legend Boo Ferriss and a host of others.
The letter is the latest in a growing wave, from House Speaker Philip Gunn to Mississippi’s SEC football coaches to the great-great-grandson of Confederate President Jefferson Davis — all saying the Confederate battle flag belongs in a museum.
“The tide is turning with business leadership saying it hurts our ability to recruit corporations and with coaches saying it hurts our ability to recruit athletes,” said state Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson. “The flag is a turnoff.”
Gov. Phil Bryant pointed out that voters spoke on the matter in 2001.
Author Greg Iles, who signed the letter, said 14 years is a long time.
“Think of America in 1931 and then in 1945 — that’s 14 years, and a tectonic shift in national identity. Think of 1961 and 1975,” he said. “The Confederate flag is no longer a viable state or national symbol in 2015.”
He believes that “clinging to the past through symbols is hurting Mississippi now,” he said. “And it has the potential to cripple economic development going forward.”
Bryant says he has no plans to call a special session on the matter.
If the governor were to call a special session later this year for economic development, Horhn expects the flag issue to be raised.
In a survey conducted by The Clarion-Ledger, 64 of Mississippi’s lawmakers said they supported changing the flag, 24 opposed it, nine said they were undecided, and 96 wouldn’t respond or give an answer.
Of those that did respond, most Democrats supported the change, while most Republicans opposed it.
On June 17, white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed the Rev. Clementa Pinckney (who was also a state senator) and eight other members.
On a website authorities found, Roof talked of wanting to start a race war.
In one photo, he posed with a U.S. flag set on fire. In another, he posed with a Confederate battle flag, wearing a T-shirt that said “88,” a reference to “Heil Hitler.”
In the wake of that massacre, Republican Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley took down Confederate flags on the statehouse grounds, and Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley successfully lobbied the Legislature to remove the Confederate flag flying over their statehouse grounds.
“It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state,” Haley said.
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Gunn said in a statement. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
Across the nation, discussions have begun over what to do with Confederate emblems.
Wal-Mart, Sears, Amazon and eBay have all nixed the sale of Confederate flags, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has ordered the Confederate flag no longer appear on license plates.
Last week at the University of Texas in Austin, President Gregory Fenves announced the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis would be moved from the campus’ Main Mall to an exhibit in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Horhn said it would be a terrible tragedy if the Confederate emblem remained in the state flag at the time the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opened to the world in December 2017.
“It would diminish the impact of the museum and how far we have come in Mississippi to have the flag still there to officially represent our state,” he said.
In a number of Mississippi towns, city councils have voted to remove the state flag from city buildings. The city of Greenwood is expected to take up the issue Tuesday.
“There were 4 million African-American slaves under this (Confederate) flag,” said state Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood. “To us, it’s just as bad as the swastika.”
Grisham said the change is “simply the right thing to do, and at the right time. The war is over. Let’s preserve its history and heritage but get rid of the symbols that continue to divide us.”