Some 400 people rallied to change the Mississippi flag Sunday, calling on the state to remove the Confederate battle emblem that's prominently displayed in the upper left corner. One prominent South Carolina lawmaker attending the event outside the Mississippi Capitol said the state's continued use of the Confederate image has hurt the local economy, reported the Associated Press.
The rallygoers included civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams and Mississippi-born rapper David Banner; they didn't propose a replacement design, but instead focused on the symbol the attendees called racially divisive. The flag has featured the Confederate battle emblem since 1894 and voters previously chose to keep it in 2001. But the national conversation about Confederate symbols took on new urgency after the June killing of nine black worshippers at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Authorities have said the killing was racially motivated and photographs have shown the suspected shooter with the Confederate flag.
Republican state Rep. Jenny Horne of South Carolina said Sunday that Mississippi hurts itself financially by displaying the battle emblem, which she said is a relic of a different time. "It is a new South," Horne said, according to the Associated Press. "The economic development opportunities that Mississippi is missing out on — you don't even know it, but it's costing all citizens jobs."
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Horne gave a passionate July speech as South Carolina lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds. On Sunday she wore a pin displaying a photo of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, her friend who was one of the nine people killed at Emanuel AME Church on June 17.
Critics have said the Mississippi flag is a reminder of slavery and segregation in a state that is 38 percent black. Others consider the Confederate imagery as a symbol of heritage. Three men held flags with various Confederate emblems near Sunday's rally.
Sharon Brown, who proposed the initiative to remove the Confederate symbol from the Mississippi flag, said the reason for the movement is to bring the state together more than cutting out the emblem.
"[The current flag] doesn't represent the unity that's here in Mississippi," she said, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. "We need one flag that represents all of the people here, not just a minority. It hurts the state economically and socially."
Despite the recent discussion about the flag, there has been little movement toward changing the Mississippi flag. While some politicians spoke out against the flag after the Charleston shooting, Mississippi's Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said the issue should be reconsidered by voters and not lawmakers, the AP reported.
Brown said Sunday she plans to soon begin gathering signatures for an initiative, which would remove all Confederate references from the state flag, that she hopes to put on the 2018 statewide ballot.