In the underground tunnel that connects the United States Capitol to the nearby buildings that house members' offices hangs a flag that has become increasingly conspicuous in the last week. The Mississippi state flag hangs in a line with the flags for all the other states in the union and U.S. territories, but the Mississippi state flag also has a Confederate Battle flag in its corner. As public opinion surrounding the Confederate flag turns sour, a new bill introduced by Mississippi's only black representative, Democrat Bennie Thompson, would give the Speaker of the House the power to remove any representation of the divisive symbol, including Thompson's home-state flag with stars and bars in the upper left-hand corner, from the House side of the Capitol complex.
In the week since the shooting that killed nine in an historic, predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a rising tide of politicians and national leaders have spoken out against the Confederate battle flag being displayed on public grounds. The day after the shooting, the Confederate flag flew at full staff, while the nearby U.S. and South Carolina flags flew at the respectful half-staff position. Mississippi is noted as one of the only states flying the stars and bars flag in an official and prominent manner similar to that of South Carolina.
“Continuing to display a symbol of hatred, oppression and insurrection that nearly tore our union apart and that is known to offend many groups throughout the country, would irreparably damage the reputation of this august institution and offend the very dignity of the House of Representatives,” Thompson said on the House floor, according to the Hill. Members of the Congressional black caucus were seated behind Thompson as he spoke.
Thompson isn't the only Mississippian who is speaking out against the flag, however. Both of the state's senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both Republicans, joined together to urge that the Mississippi state legislature consider changing the flag and putting the Confederate-adorned current flag in a museum.
"As a proud citizen of Mississippi, it is my personal hope that the state government will consider changing the state flag. The recent debate on the symbolism of our flag, which belongs to all of us, presents the people of our state an opportunity to consider a new banner that represents Mississippi," Cochran said in a statement. "I appreciate the views of my friend and colleague Roger Wicker, and agree that we should look for unity and not divisiveness in the symbols of our state."
Photos of Dylann Roof, the accused killer in last week's Charleston, South Carolina, shooting, surfaced online showing the 21-year-old with a handgun and waving a Confederate flag. Elsewhere, he was seen wearing clothing with patches depicting apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesian flags, both of which are white supremacist symbols. Roof's website, a reputed racist manifesto, says that Roof intended to start a race war.
Since the attacks, there has been a strong backlash against Confederate symbols across the South and in the country as a whole. On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called on her state legislature to debate removing the flag from the statehouse grounds, which the legislature is currently considering. University of Texas students called for the removal of a Jefferson Davis statue from their campus. Major flag manufacturers announced they would no longer make the flag, and major retailers like Walmart and Ebay announced they would no longer carry the flags or items that depict the flags. The governor of Alabama ordered that the flag be taken down from the Alabama state Capitol grounds.
The bill that Thompson introduced on Wednesday would not apply to the flags hung outside of individual lawmakers' office doors. The Speaker of the House, who is currently Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, would have the ability to order the removal of depictions of the Confederate flag elsewhere on the House side of the Capitol complex, including the connecting tunnel between the Capitol and House office buildings that members travel to vote on the House floor. The tunnel features a train for members as well.