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Mississippi Flag Vote Raises Concern About State’s Future

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Mississippi voters ended a statewide flag referendum last week, choosing to keep the symbol of the Old South, known as the Confederate or St. Andrew’s cross, as a dominant part of the state banner.

However, the debate is likely to continue with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) threatening to boycott the state because of the vote.
An overwhelming majority, or 65 percent of over 600,000 voters, favored keeping the current flag, various news agencies reported when 94 percent of the ballots were counted on the night of the referendum, April 17. Only 35 percent of voters supported the new flag–a cluster of 20 stars on a blue background–signifying Mississippi’s admission as the 20th state.
Eugene Bryant, president of the Mississippi NAACP, told the Associated Press a boycott decision could be made by May. A similar tactic was used by the NAACP against South Carolina, until the state agreed to remove the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is considering a request to pull its post-season games from states where the Rebel symbol still flies from government buildings, according to USA Today.
During the referendum campaign, the camp opposing the Rebel flag, led by former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, argued that the controversial symbol stalls economic development in the state, keeping big companies and potential tourists at a distance.
“It wasn’t a real surprising vote,” Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, told the New York Times. “This is a long-term issue, and the people of Mississippi just need more time to get there.”
The Mississippi Baptist Convention did not issue a statement about the flag debate. Instead, it ran three editorials backing both flag designs in the Jackson, Miss., -based Baptist Record.
One day after the vote, newspaper editorials hammered the Mississippi legislature for letting the flag issue go to a public ballot and not taking responsibility itself for the state’s future.
“Mississippi enshrined itself as the only state in the Union to still wave a banner that symbolizes in the minds of many Americans, especially African Americans, allegiance to a segregationist South,” read a Washington Post editorial. “[The state] chose to march smartly to the rear. Mississippi will be the poorer for it.”
An Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial read: “Mississippi is the lone state to prominently feature the tainted banner on its flag. It’s an ignoble decision … The Mississippi Legislature ducked its responsibility, and now the state will pay for that act of cowardice.”
The Mississippi Clarion-Ledger ran an editorial cartoon April 20 depicting a state resident announcing “It’s my heritage,” while shooting himself in the foot with a gun, on which the words “flag vote” are inscribed.
“In a state where black poverty is among the worst in the nation and educational opportunity among the slimmest, banishing that racist symbol was no panacea. But it could have been a solid start,” read a USA Today editorial.
Alex Smirnov is BCE’s research associate.