CLARKSDALE – On his first day as a municipal judge, Carlos Moore walked into the courtroom and said he noticed the Mississippi state flag behind the judge’s bench. He immediately had to take it down.
“It was not going to be behind my back and for the court to see, the citizens to see,” he told Mississippi Today in a telephone interview. “I don’t stand for white supremacy at all and so it had to go.”
The first African-American appointed as municipal court judge pro-tempore in this town’s history, Moore, an attorney with Tucker-Moore law firm in Grenada, said the flag will not be on display as long as he’s serving as a judge. He is one of the first judges in Mississippi to have the state flag removed from his courtroom.
State law requires the flag to be “displayed from all public buildings from sunrise to sunset”and “may be displayed from all public buildings twenty-four (24) hours a day if properly illuminated.”
“The state flag shall receive all of the respect and ceremonious etiquette given the American flag. Provided, however, nothing in this section shall be construed so as to affect the precedence given to the flag of the United States of America,” according to the state code.
The Mississippi state flag does not fly at Clarksdale City Hall. Currently, only the U.S. flag, the city flag and the state bicentennial banner flies at the building.
Chuck Espy, Clarksdale’s new mayor, appointed Moore as municipal judge pro tem in June and was sworn in last week. In that role, Moore presides over municipal court and handles criminal offenses and misdemeanor charges in the absence of Derek Hopson, whom Espy appointed chief judge.
A Confederate battle emblem in a corner of the flag has long sparked controversy, opponents of the flag believing the symbol is racist while many of its supporters say it represents the history of the state.
Moore said he was unaware of who placed the flag in Clarksdale’s municipal courtroom or how long it’s been there.
“I believe the flag has been there for as long as anyone can remember,” he said. He went on to say that when he is offended by something, he has to take a stand.
Espy was in attendance when Moore ordered the flag removed and applauded the judge for his act.
“It was a wonderful feeling,” Moore said. “I am so happy to be a part of the Clarksdale judiciary.”
Moore has had a long-running, high profile battle against the state flag.
In February 2016, Moore sued Gov. Phil Bryant, claiming that the state flag violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Moore said in his complaint the has caused him physical harm, including increased anxiety and stress.
A federal judge in Jackson dismissed Moore’s suit, but he has twice appealed. After a federal appeals court also rejected his claims, Moore’s attorneys wrote that under the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling “a city could adopt ‘White Supremacy Forever’ as its official motto; or a county could incorporate an image of white hooded figures and a noose hanging from a tree into its county seal; or a state could incorporate a Nazi swastika, as an endorsement of Aryan/white supremacy, in its state flag.”
Last month, Moore appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. October is the earliest that the Supreme Court will say whether it will take the case.
Now, Moore says he will balance his law practice with serving as a judge. Tuesdays are dedicated to serving on the bench whereas the other days of the week will be dedicated to practicing law.
He will also have to manage conflicts of interest. Moore said he will not practice law in Clarksdale municipal court, but he can practice in other areas around the state where he’s barred. Moore said he can’t handle criminal cases that come through Coahoma County.
The fact that he is the first African-American municipal judge pro tems in the town is surprising to Moore even though Clarksdale has an 80 percent African-American population.
“I’m glad it finally happened, and we’re on the right track,” Moore said.