Joe Ellis / The Clarion-Ledger / AP

Hundreds protest Confederate symbol on Mississippi flag

People march in Jackson, calling for the state to remove Confederate battle emblem from state flag

About 400 people took part in a change-the-flag rally Sunday outside the Mississippi Capitol, calling on the state to remove the Confederate battle emblem from its flag.

No alternative design was proposed, but rally leaders said the flag is racially divisive. Three men holding large flags with various Confederate emblems watched the rally from a distance across the Capitol lawn.

The Mississippi state flag in the U.S. Capitol.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP

The emblem — a blue X with 13 white stars, over a red field — has been on Mississippi's flag since 1894, and residents voted to keep it in 2001.

The racially motivated killing of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina in June has thrust the Confederate battle flag under a national spotlight. Alabama and South Carolina are two states that have removed it from their capitols. NASCAR tracks, Walmart and Sears have come out against using and selling the emblem.

In Mississippi, despite widespread discussion of the issue — the state House Speaker Philip Gunn called for a change in the flag days after the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting — and rallies, there has been little movement to make a change. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves say if the issue is reconsidered, it should be done by voters rather than by legislators.

Critics say the Mississippi flag is a divisive reminder of slavery and segregation and doesn't represent a state where 38 percent of the 2.9 million residents are black. Supporters say they see the Confederate emblem as a symbol of history and heritage.

Republican state Rep. Jenny Horne of South Carolina said Sunday that Mississippi is hurting its economy by keeping the battle emblem on the state flag.

“It is a new South. The economic development opportunities that Mississippi is missing out on — you don't even know it, but it's costing all citizens jobs,” said Horne, who gave an impassioned speech in July as South Carolina lawmakers voted to remove a Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia.

Horne said South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its place of prominence because of tragedy. She said she's “cautiously optimistic” that Mississippi will do the right thing and change its flag.

Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams said at the rally that that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee distanced himself from Confederate symbols after the South lost the Civil War.

“If a former Confederate general recognizes the divisiveness of a symbol of disunity, we must do so also,” said Evers-Williams, who was national chairwoman of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998 and is the widow of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi NAACP leader who was assassinated outside their family's Jackson home in 1963.

Mississippi-born rapper David Banner, who attended the event, said the state hurts itself by failing to fully recognize its troubled history and flying a state flag with the Confederate battle emblem is an insult.

“What was the Civil War fought over?” he said. “Be honest. Slavery.”

Al Jazeera with The Associated Press

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