Mississippi state flag back on ballot?

Published 12:03 am Thursday, October 8, 2015

NATCHEZ — Natchez resident Albert Jackson said 13 white stars adorning a blue cross against a red background don’t define him.

“It’s the people behind the state flag that matter,” said Jackson, who is black.

Jackson said he has minimally followed recent discussions by state civil rights advocates who are pushing Mississippi to change its flag design and eliminate the Confederate battle emblem that appears in the upper left corner.

Email newsletter signup

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood recently approved a signature gathering for Initiative Measure Number 55, a state ballot initiative to amend the Mississippi State Constitution and change the flag.

Any initiative approved by Mississippi voters would be an amendment to the state constitution.

Because of lengthy governmental processes, the earliest Initiative Measure Number 55 could appear on a state ballot is 2018.

The emblem has been on the state flag since 1894, and voters chose to keep it in 2001 by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in a similar ballot initiative.

After the recent massacre of nine black worshippers in June at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, a renewed debate about whether the Confederate emblem should stay on the state flag has swept Mississippi.

Jerry Dixon, a white Natchez resident who took up residence in Mississippi from Bay St. Louis after Hurricane Katrina, said he has never considered flying the state flag in front of his Washington Street house.

“It’s a symbol of racism,” Dixon said of the flag. “People don’t need to be reminded of something painful and horrific that happened years ago.”

Dixon said he was glad to hear that civil rights advocates were speaking up about the flag, and urging state representatives to reconsider its design.

“We’re living in changing times, and I’m happy to see people doing something about this,” he said.

And while critics of the flag claim that the flag is a reminder of slavery and segregation, supporters said it is a symbol of history and heritage.

“This has always been our state flag, and I think it should stay,” said Regina Hootsell, owner of Franklin Street Antiques Mall, which sells the Mississippi state flag and Confederate battle flags.

Hootsell said she has had locals and tourists come in frequently to purchase state flag paraphernalia that the store offers.

“Why would it be changed?” Hootsell asked. “I don’t see a problem with it.”

While working at the store, Hootsell said she has never had any customers comment negatively on the flag.

Others throughout the state are working to keep the Confederate emblem on the flag.

A woman who works in Biloxi at Beauvoir — the final home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis — filed an initiative proposal several weeks ago to keep the Confederate emblem on the state flag. However, she abandoned that initiative after she said the attorney general had written a confusing ballot title.

Beauvoir administrator Greg Stewart said another initiative to keep the flag would be filed.

While standing beneath the Mississippi state flag flying in front of the Natchez-Adams School District administrative building on Homochitto Street Monday, Darrell Payne, who is black, said he would like to see the emblem go.

“For me, it’s a symbol of hate,” 24-year-old Payne said. “South Carolina took it down, Georgia took it down — it’s time for Mississippi to do the same.”

Born and raised in Mississippi, Payne said he is proud to be a Mississippian, but he isn’t proud of some of the state’s past.

“The state flag, it’s an issue that needs to be talked about,” he said. “It’s an issue people need to care about.”