McComb is latest city to furl state flag

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Fred Anklam Jr., Mississippi Today

The Mississippi state flag flies at the state Capitol.

The city of McComb is the latest to remove the state flag, which is the last in the nation displaying the Confederate battle emblem.

Three McComb selectmen, all black, voted to remove the flag. Selectman Ted Tullos, who is white, voted against removing the flag. The other two selectmen, both white, were not present at Thursday’s meeting, the Enterprise Journal reported.

The board’s decision fell in line with those made by other prominent cities in the state, including Jackson, Biloxi, Greenville, Hattiesburg, Columbus and Vicksburg. Additionally, all eight of the state’s universities have pulled down the flag.

Social, political and fiscal pressures against displays of the Confederate battle emblem have mounted since the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C. States including South Carolina and Alabama distanced themselves from the Confederate flag.

Last legislative session, 22 flag-related bills were filed and all died in committee. In 2016, 19 flag-related bills died before making it to either the House or Senate floor for a vote.

State leaders are split on the issue. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has said that he believes the people of Mississippi should vote on changing the flag.

House Speaker Philip Gunn has opposed the current state flag, acknowledging a portion of the state’s population feels excluded by the rebel emblem it contains.

“My position on the flag has not changed,” Gunn told Mississippi Today earlier this year. “I still believe the flag needs to be changed. I think we can find something that represents all of Mississippi, so we’re going to continue those discussions to see what we can come up with.”

In 2001, Mississippi voters decided overwhelmingly to keep flying the current state flag. Since then, no substantial executive or legislative action has been taken. Since 2000, five flag-related initiatives failed to garner enough signatures to make a statewide ballot. Initiative 55, which expired Oct. 15, 2016, would have stripped the Confederate emblem from the state flag. Initiative 58, which expired Nov. 5, 2016, would have cemented the adoption of the current state flag in the Mississippi Constitution.

Gov. Phil Bryant, an ardent supporter of the current state flag, often points to the 2001 vote when discussing the merits of changing the flag. Opponents of the flag say a 16-year-old vote should not dictate today’s policy.

The Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce representing the largest Mississippi corporations, led the 2001 charge to change the flag. Late last year, the council unveiled a bicentennial banner to honor the state’s upcoming 200th birthday. Many, including former council president Blake Wilson, say the banner could spark a new conversation about the state flag.

“You’ve got a brand that disenfranchises 37 percent of your population (who are African Americans), so why would you use that brand?” Wilson said last year. “It’s not a brand that brings people together.”