In a powerful floor speech Thursday, a black House member from Gulfport brought troubling issues regarding the state flag to the attention of the entire House.
The comments by Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, a Democrat from Gulfport, came as a point of personal privilege, an honored practice in which lawmakers are given time to speak on the House floor on issues of importance to them, rather than on pending legislation.
Williams-Barnes, chairwoman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, said she requested her point of order to address actions made Thursday by Rep. William Shirley, R-Quitman, during his own point of personal privelege.
On Wednesday, Shirley, who had made several attempts in recent weeks to force state colleges and universities to fly the Mississippi flag, came to the podium in the well of the House when he was recognized for his point of personal privilege.
But instead of speaking, Shirley pulled out a small white flag and a small Mississippi state flag and waved them at House members before walking away without making any comment. The gesture was interpreted by many as signaling that he was abandoning his efforts on behalf of the state flag amendments.
Here are Williams-Barnes remarks:
“This is actually my first time coming down here to do such an act and use my ability of a point of personal privilege.”
“I felt such a dire need and it moved in me that I can’t sit any longer. On yesterday, I sat in my seat and I waited (for) the gentleman from Clarke County’s point of personal privilege.”
“I sat praying and hoping that he would apologize for his disruptive actions as he has attempted this session to mandate for students and employees of our state institutions to fly over them the flag that represents hate regression and a time of disgrace and inhumane treatment to a people who are wanting and trying to move forward.”
“This flag remains a constant reminder of not just the past hate, but the current hate that continues to fester in this state among our residents and throughout this chamber.”
“That didn’t happen.”
“Instead he stood here before this house and in my opinion made a mockery of an apology to the actions. As he retired to the back of the chamber, where he sits, he laughed and cooed. Not alone, but with other members of this House.”
“It was hurtful to see such actions. He laughed and cooed about something that is so sensitive to my people, to my constituents, to most members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus and to me.”
“I’ve been told by some that we have more important things to fight. Well, that may be true to some.”
“But my mother always told me that your name and your image will take you either to a positive light or lead you into darkness depending on which road you choose. With the face of our state and us being the last to remove the Confederate emblem we are headed into darkness, people.”
“I was told the latter part of last year that I needed to hold on and wait and let’s not make an issue of the flag just yet. We have a plan. So I trusted and I waited and I waited and now we’re approaching the end of this legislative session and every flag bill is either buried or in a procession headed to the cemetery.”
“I won’t wait anymore. It’s not a threat nor warning. I am sick to my core of this flag and what it’s doing to my state.”
“It’s not only about race. It’s about progression of our state. It’s about economic development in our state. It’s about tourism in our state. It’s about growth of our state. It’s about making Mississippi whole again.”
Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of the House, lieutenant governor if you are listening, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, the governor of this state and every black, white, red, green, yellow, orange or whatever color race you are of this state, I’m not waiting anymore. I won’t continue to sit with those bars and stripes flying over my head and pretend that I don’t see them, (inaudible) doesn’t affect me.”
“I won’t wait anymore.”
“It’s now my issue and I will do all I have in me to remove this terrible symbol of hate from our state. This nation should not see it as I do …”
“It’s time, members.”