Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant sparked controversy as Confederate Heritage Month began in April in the Southern U.S. state. In a statement released earlier this year describing the reason for the long-celebrated month of remembrance, Bryant noted that April was the month that "began and ended a four-year struggle," making no mention of slavery.
"It is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation's past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes," the statement read, adding that the country must "earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities which lie before us."
Several other Southern states, including Virginia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida, celebrate Confederate heritage month in April. While adherents to the festivities claim that it celebrates an important period in the South's history and represents states' rights, critics have said it glorifies slavery and is an outdated practice.
— Raw Story (@RawStory) April 3, 2016
Debate over the Confederate flag and other reminders of the Confederacy took on fresh symbolic importance after white supremacist Dylann Roof stormed a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, killing nine people. The South Carolina State House had long flown a Confederate flag on its grounds, and after photos of Roof posing with the Confederate flag surfaced online, activists demanded that the state government take it down. After much debate, the flag was removed in July 2015.
Mississippi is the last state whose flag still bears a Confederate symbol, with the Confederate battle symbol in the upper left corner. Debate opened in state Congress this year to consider changing the flag. A civil rights attorney filed a lawsuit in February against the governor of Mississippi to have the flag removed, saying it incited racial hatred.
“Mississippi’s official state flag, with the embedded Confederate battle flag, is tantamount to hateful government speech that both has a discriminatory intent and disparate impact,” the lawsuit said, according to the Washington Post, adding: “The current official state flag … encourages or incites private citizens to commit acts of racial violence.”