JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - This is an alternate ending to the endless low-boiling dispute over Mississippi’s state flag - people and institutions walk away from the current flag, one by one.
It’s a course of action that’s available even if lawmakers do nothing, leaving the 1894 flag with its Confederate battle emblem displayed on state government property, but maybe in few other places.
Delta State University was the latest institution to exit through the side door last week, hauling down the banner on Thursday afternoon. President Bill LaForge said the flag doesn’t represent the values the university wants to promote - civility, respect for all, diversity, inclusion, fairness and hospitality. Instead, he used words like polarizing and offensive to describe the current flag.
To LaForge’s credit, Delta State announced the move and was direct about why it was removing the flag. LaForge was also direct in saying he believes this is a problem that lawmakers need to solve. “It’s their responsibility,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s our government leaders’ responsibility.”
There’s a significant faction, though, especially among Republicans, who feel it is their responsibility to keep the current flag. The Daily Mississippian, for example, reported on Sen. Chris McDaniel’s Thursday speech to the Our State Flag Foundation, a pro-flag group that has been fighting efforts to purge the flag, especially at the University of Mississippi.
“My position on the state flag is as long as it’s our state flag, it needs to fly,” said McDaniel, an Ellisville Republican. “Ole Miss is a state institution. . A state institution has the responsibility to fly the state flag.”
A scattering of “Change the speaker, keep the flag” signs still linger in yards across the state, a backlash against the 2015 announcement by House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, that he wanted some kind of flag change. The votes of that “Hell, no,” faction could matter in low-turnout Republican legislative primaries. Even a few of the ever-shrinking number of white Democrats in the Legislature shy away from the issue, in part because it might be an electoral loser.
In Tupelo, the flag held on last week thanks to a racially divided vote by the City Council. But even there, it’s only going to fly in spots with more than one flagpole. Mostly, the city will just fly solo American flags.
In Tupelo and elsewhere, some people say they want Mississippi to find a new flag, but will fly the old one in the meantime out of respect for the state. That straddle represents the conflicted middle ground in the debate.
But for them, the Mississippi Economic Council is offering a way out - the bicentennial banner. Meant to commemorate 200 years of statehood in 1817, it gives the conflicted folks, if only for the next 14 months or so, something else they can fly. Delta State, for example, is hoisting the bicentennial banner to replace the state flag.
“It’s not a flag,” said Blake Wilson, the executive director of the state Chamber of Commerce, as he unveiled it at a gathering of political candidates last month.
But of course it is. It’s shaped like a flag. It could easily be confused with the current state banner of Missouri, which has stripes of blue, white and red from top to bottom and that state’s seal in the middle.
Flag designers and lovers who mock the tendency among state flags toward slapping a “seal on a bedsheet” probably wouldn’t like it. And maybe that’s not a bad thing, after having a flag that’s been a magnet for controversy for decades, for Mississippi to fly something that’s so forgettable that people can’t be sure what state it represents.
Jeff Amy has covered politics and government for The Associated Press in Mississippi since 2011. Follow him at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy .
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