‘Now is the time’: Mississippi NAACP leader urges lawmakers to change state flag quickly

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As legislators consider changing the state flag, Mississippi Today spoke with Robert James, president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP about his thoughts on elected officials’ role in removing it.

Lawmakers are expected to begin the process of changing the state flag, which features the Confederate battle emblem, as early as Saturday as the Legislature moves toward the end of its 2020 session.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Mississippi NAACP

Robert James, president of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP

Mississippi Today: What do you think about the state flag?

James: If Mississippi is going to be a state that unifies all of its citizens, we must take a stand to eliminate this bitter hatred and get rid of this flag. And (if) there ever was a time for our officials to stand against this flag that’s been detrimental to our community, now is the time. Our legislators have the power, they have the collective voice of the people to act at this moment, and it’s their moment and their time to remove this Confederate monument from this state.

Mississippi Today: Do you think the flag right now represents Mississippi?

James: The flag right now represents seceding from the Union. It represents prejudice. It represents our past and history that does not and will not unify the citizens as one group of people. If we are living in a state that will continue to carry on the legacy of hate, racism, that flag does not represent us, the citizens of Mississippi. It never did unify us as citizens of the state of Mississippi. My thought is, it is the continuing cry for the lost cause of the Confederacy. That’s why it hasn’t been removed.

I just call on the legislators in the midst of this to do the right thing. It is a moment to act, it is a season to act, it is their season to vote and take down this symbol of hate in our state. Today is the day to move on that.

Mississippi Today: What is it about this moment? It seems like now is the first time in a long time lawmakers are having real conversations about changing the state flag.

James: The discussion has always been real when it comes to the African American stand on this Confederate emblem flag. There’s no issue on that. We’ve been fighting this and we will continue to fight this. (This flag) is not what Mississippi should be standing up for. Mississippi should be rallying its citizens. (This issue is) Not just about one side of people who are carrying the legacy of the lost cause of the Confederacy. Now is the time to move the state forward.