JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Confederate-themed Mississippi flag drew opposition Tuesday from two major forces in the culturally conservative state: Southern Baptists and Walmart.
Walmart said it will stop displaying the Mississippi flag while the state debates changing the design. The Mississippi Baptist Convention said legislators have a moral duty to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag because it “ hurts and shames ” many people.
“We believe this is the right thing to do, and is consistent with Walmart’s position not to sell Southern Flag merchandise from stores and online sites as part of our commitment to providing all our customers in the communities with a welcoming and inclusive experience. we serve, “said company spokesman Anne Hatfield.
The announcements increase pressure for change in a state that is slow to embrace it. Protests against racial injustice in the United States are drawing new attention to Southern symbols.
Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem: a red field with a blue X with 13 white stars on it. The NCAA, the Southeastern Conference, leading business organizations and other religious groups have already called on the state to adopt a more inclusive flag.
The conservative and majority white Mississippi Baptist Convention has over 500,000 members in over 2,100 churches. The population of Mississippi is approximately 3 million and 38% of the inhabitants are African American.
“While some may view the current flag as a celebration of heritage, a significant portion of our state considers it a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred,” the Baptist group said in a statement. “The racial undertone of this flag’s appearance makes this discussion a moral issue.”
White supremacists in the Mississippi Legislature embedded the symbol in the top left corner of the state flag in 1894, amid opposition to the political power African Americans gained during reconstruction.
During a 2001 state election, voters chose to keep the design. Republican Governor Tate Reeves has said that if the flag is to be changed, it must be done by another national election.
Legislators are trying to complete their annual session in the coming days. A bipartisan group has tried to collect enough votes to change the flag, but it is an arduous task. Some legislators don’t want a change. Others want to decide for statewide elections because they believe that changing the flag could jeopardize their own political careers.
Members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus reiterated their lengthy appeal to the legislature Tuesday to remove the Southern symbol, saying another election across the state would be bitter and divisive.
In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the flag had no official status because lawmakers had not included the draft when they updated other state laws in 1906. That meant that the Southern themed design had been used by tradition rather than law for nearly a century. Then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, appointed a 17-member committee in 2000 to study flag design and make recommendations to the legislator.
The democratic state Rep. Ed Blackmon of Canton served on the committee, which held public hearings in late 2000.
“You have no idea of the vitriol, the hatred and the sayings of evil bestowed upon those present among us,” said Blackmon Tuesday. “It brought out the worst of the Mississippians. ‘
Legislators at the beginning of 2001 chose to put the matter to the vote rather than decide it themselves. Voters rejected a design that would have replaced the Southern symbol with a blue field topped with a cluster of white stars representing Mississippi as the 20th state.
All Mississippi public universities stopped flagging the flag years ago because of the Confederate Symbol. Several cities and counties have also removed it from public ownership, some long ago and some recently. Leaders of all 15 community colleges said on Tuesday that the state should change the flag.
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