Some in city consider flag inquiry

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 1999

Some city officials said they would investigate whether the Confederate battle flag at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center is the right one to fly there.

&uot;We don’t want to offend people,&uot; said Walter Tipton, director of tourism management for the City of Natchez. &uot;The most important thing to us is the big one that flies up above all the other ones.&uot;

Along with the Confederate battle flag, six other flags fly above the visitor center: the U.S. flag, which is higher than the others, and flags for Natchez, Mississippi, Spain, France and Great Britain.

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Tipton said they are meant to represent Natchez’s history and were approved by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History when the visitor center was built.

But the Rev. C.R. Jackson has complained about the battle flag, saying it is offensive to the black community. He said he would rather see a Confederate national flag flying over the center.

Which is right?

Tipton said he will ask Archives and History to investigate the accuracy of the Confederate flag again, and would consider changing the flag if it is incorrect.

Historian Jeff Giambrone, who works at the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg, said the rectangular battle flag now associated with the Confederacy was actually the Confederate naval jack during the war. A square version was used as a battle flag, but the rectangular version was used most often by veterans’ groups after the war, he said.

Aldermen speak out

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux had not heard Jackson’s complaint but said the community needs to be more sensitive about the symbols it displays.

&uot;It’s time for us to be sensitive about the many diverse groups that we have,&uot; she said. &uot;We need to work at being sensitive of their feelings. …

&uot;It might be time to talk about what we use as symbols.&uot;

Arceneaux said no one has asked her to bring up the issue before the board of aldermen.

Alderman George Harden said he opposes the city’s flying a flag he considers a symbol of hatred.

Harden pointed out that no African flags fly over the visitor center.

Alderman David Massey said he would support changing the flag if it is inaccurate.

&uot;There’s no doubt in my mind that if it’s wrong we’ll get it right,&uot; he said.

Massey said the community needs to be sensitive to &uot;both sides of the story.&uot;

&uot;We have a Natchez flag that we paid a lot of money for that depicts all of the races that are in this town,&uot; he said.

Massey said the only other complaint he’s heard about the Confederate flag is a letter from a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor sent to both city officials and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

Alderman Jake Middleton said the decision on what is the proper flag should be left up to the National Department of Archives and History because the visitor center was a federally-funded building.

Alderwoman Sue Stedman said that the flag was approved by the state Department of Archives and History.

&uot;I don’t see how (Jackson) can say it’s the incorrect flag,&uot; Stedman said. &uot;If Archives and History says it’s the wrong flag then we’ll do something about it.&uot;

Alderman Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West said he would be willing to change the flag if it is determined that is the wrong flag.

&uot;If we have the wrong flag flying over Natchez then I will join with this board to correct any mistakes, misunderstandings, whatever we need to do,&uot; he said.

&uot;I am just as concerned about the flag as other people, but there are more issues to be concerned about. We need better jobs, and we need to have a meeting of the minds and hearts in this community. Until we have a meeting of the minds and hearts, symbolism will always be a problem.&uot;

‘An insult’

NAACP&160;member Charles Sanders said he agrees with Jackson’s complaint about the flag, especially because it is usually associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

&uot;It’s somewhat an insult to us,&uot; he said. &uot;Anything of that nature is somewhat offensive.&uot;

Tipton said the intention of the flags is to represent Natchez’s history.

&uot;We are no more a proponent of the Ku Klux Klan than we are a Spanish special interest group,&uot; he said.

Tipton said a change in the flag could come from his office or could come at the request of the board of aldermen.