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Mississippi lawmakers could change the state flag today if they wanted. Here’s how.

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The flag of the State of Mississippi along High Street between the Mississippi State Capitol, Supreme Court and Walter Sillers State Office Building in Jackson, Mississippi. (Photo by Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States - Mississippi and American Flags, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68498465)

A note from Tommy Parker, Vicksburg Daily News:

It’s time for change in Mississippi and it begins with the flag

Given the events of the past few weeks, I have often found myself in deep thought and prayer. Many of these thoughts were spurred by conversations with my 16-year-old daughter, Samantha. She and I have had some serious discussion about recent events and how she feels about our world today.

We were blessed to have a wonderful, peaceful march this past Friday here in Vicksburg. Mayor George Flaggs Jr. told me that my late mother, who was a dear friend of his, would have been proud. So far, every event in Mississippi (to the best of my knowledge) has been peaceful. But my Mother taught me, as I have attempted to teach my daughter, it’s OK to be the one to break from the pack and say no. It takes intestinal or testicular fortitude to go against the grain.

With that being said, after much deliberation, thought and prayer, I am publicly asking that our leaders take whatever steps necessary to change our state flag. I feel it would be a huge step in mending relations in our state. The flag is holding this state back. It’s time to retire it to a museum as part of history. I cannot change what my forefathers may have done. But I can control what I choose to do.

Please read this article written by a friend, Adam Ganucheau at Mississippi Today.


As organizers of Saturday’s historic Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Jackson decried state-sanctioned racial inequities, a massive Mississippi state flag — the last in the nation containing the Confederate battle emblem — flapped in the breeze a few yards behind them in front of the home of Gov. Tate Reeves.

The crowd of at least 3,000 protesters later marched past the Mississippi State Capitol, where state flags flew outside the office windows of Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, and loudly chanted: “Change the flag!” 

Reeves, Hosemann and Gunn, in the most pivotal racial moment in America since the 1960s, find themselves leading the state with the highest percentage of black residents in the nation. As tens of thousands of black Mississippians and their multi-racial allies marched the streets of dozens of cities in recent days, the state flag has been and will remain a focal point of demonstrations.

“Elected officials who choose to stay silent on this issue are cowards,” said Jarrius Adams, a 22-year-old activist who co-organized Saturday’s Black Lives Matter protest in Jackson. “The history and heritage it symbolizes isn’t welcoming or inclusive for black folks. Our elected officials have a responsibility to ensure anything that represents our state represents us equitably.”

The state flag, long the subject of controversy in Mississippi, was adopted in 1894 by white lawmakers, hungry for power following years of black leadership during Reconstruction. Most of the white Mississippians who held power in the late 1800s and early 1900s were direct descendants of soldiers who fought or died in the Civil War. They championed racist policies meant to limit the rights of black Mississippians, and they paid homage to the Lost Cause in the form of monuments, flags and other iconography that glorified the South’s losing fight to uphold slavery.

Violent and racist extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan commandeered the Confederate battle emblem during their rise of power in the mid-1900s. Even today, those sparsely organized groups and lone-wolf stragglers clinging to their same values still prominently feature the flag. Some extremists have even displayed the Mississippi state flag beside the Confederate battle flag at nationally broadcast protests in recent years.

Despite the history of the symbol, efforts to change the Mississippi flag have failed. Few political moments in recent years — including the referendum in 2001 in which Mississippians voted almost 2-to-1 to keep the current flag — have spurred meaningful staying power for those who want the state’s elected officials to change the flag.

But this current movement, as displayed in Jackson and cities across the state the past week, provides hope to many Mississippians that a change is possible.

In just the past few days, there’s precedent for state leaders to act as Confederate iconography across the South is being toppled. Where protesters haven’t taken matters into their own hands, leaders of major Southern cities have removed statues and flags and other Confederate symbolism.

Last week, even the United States Marine Corps issued a ban on the Confederate battle flag at Marine installations (though the Marines did leave an exception specifically for Mississippi because of its state flag). 

Reeves, Hosemann and Gunn likely carry the influence to change the state flag. They’d need support from at least a simple majority of the Legislature, but all three can whip majority votes with ease. With that support, the process could be completed start-to-finish in one day with careful planning.

These are the legislative steps to change the state flag:

  • Because key 2020 deadlines have passed, lawmakers would first need to suspend their legislative rules to consider a new bill that would change the flag. To suspend rules, two-thirds of both the Senate (34 of 52 members) and House (81 of 122 members) must vote yea. Hosemann and Gunn have secured a two-thirds majority for other major policy this year.
  • After rules suspension, the bill would then move through the normal legislative process in which a simple majority vote (27 yeas in Senate, 62 yeas in House) is required to pass. The bill would start in a House or Senate committee. If passed by that committee, it would move to the floor of that chamber. If passed, that same process would be replicated in the other chamber. The bill, if passed in both chambers, would be sent to the desk of the governor for signature or veto.
  • If Reeves were to sign the bill, it would become law. If Reeves were to veto the bill, the bill would be sent back to the Legislature. To override a governor’s veto and change the flag, another two-thirds vote of both the Senate and House would be required.

Lawmakers have long pointed back to the 2001 flag referendum and said that Mississippians themselves, not the Legislature, should decide the fate of the flag on a statewide ballot. But that 2001 vote completely excluded the largest voting bloc in the state: millennials and generation Z. Any Mississippian currently under the age of 37 years old was unable to vote in that referendum.

“I was 3-years-old in April of 2001, but now I can vote and I pay taxes,” Adams, the organizer, said. “I also am one of the few students who chose to stay in Mississippi after graduating from the University of Mississippi. At some point we have to say that a new generation has risen and things need to change.”

Reeves, playing to his base of conservative, older white voters across the state, pointed to the 2001 vote in an October 2019 gubernatorial debate and said voters should again decide the fate of the flag.

Hosemann also pushed the “citizens should vote” narrative as recently as late 2019. But several key lawmakers at the Capitol believe his perspective on politics could spur a change of heart, particularly in this moment of pain for so many. Hosemann, a political moderate who supports issues like expanding Medicaid, has worked hard to maintain close working relationships with leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus.

A few days after he took office in January, Mississippi Today asked him in a podcast interview if he realized he was broadly considered by voters as a politician who could better represent Mississippians who have long felt underrepresented in Jackson. Hosemann acknowledged he’d heard that sentiment from Mississippians of all races and political backgrounds, and his answer to the question moved two of his staffers in the room to tears.

“I have a distinct feeling that I have a burden here, a big heavy weight,” Hosemann told Mississippi Today in the podcast interview. “My issues, I think, are the ones that are talked about at the kitchen table. And that’s on purpose.”

Hosemann continued: “I so don’t want to disappoint so many people that are thinking I can make their lives better. I think if you care about people, you end up feeling like this. It’s a heavy weight for anybody. I will try as hard as I possibly can. I don’t intend to disappoint anyone. It’ll be better than what it is today.”

Gunn remains one of the only top Mississippi Republican officials who has publicly maintained that the state flag should change. Though his personal position hasn’t wavered, no bills to change the flag have passed through a House committee under his leadership. In sessions past, he said he didn’t believe he had the votes in the House or support in the Senate to seriously push the issue.

In theory, Hosemann and Gunn wouldn’t need Reeves’ participation. As long as they could whip two-thirds votes in their chambers, they could create a veto-proof majority to change the state flag. They’ve proven the ability to do that on other issues already this session.

But many Mississippians feel this moment is different, and elected officials’ role in perpetuating racism is at the heart of the movement. On Saturday, several protesters said that a push to change the flag from Reeves, Hosemann and Gunn could help create unity in the state that would resonate with every Mississippian involved in the movement.

“The flag and other symbols celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy and a history that enslaved, traumatized and oppressed my ancestors for more than 400 years,” Adams said. “I see the flag and it shows me how much work needs to be done.”

“Mississippi is a state that I love,” Adams said, “but with the current state flag, Mississippi struggles to love me back.”


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

News

Deion Sanders coached high school to championship before leaving for JSU

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Jackson State University head coach Deion Sanders coached his final high school football game last night at Trinity Christian High School where they won the Texas Christian Athletic League Championship.

Sanders is the Tiger’s offensive coordinator and his son, Shedeur, is the team’s starting quarterback. They defeated the Heir Eagles Academy 59-28 to finish with a great 8-3 record.

Sanders posted members of his team on Twitter after the big win and showed how proud they are to be the champs.

Sanders also had three Vicksburg natives on the championship team who all contributed to winning the big game. Shardez Taylor, Marvin Martin Jr, and Quentin Pollard all had great performances this season for the Tigers.

Saturday’s game marked Sanders’ final game at Trinity. His focus is now on his new Jackson State football family. He was named head coach for JSU two months ago. He has already begun bringing in major recruits for Jackson State, including Shedeur who will be joining him next year.

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News

Vehicle takes out hydrant and utility pole

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Photo by David Day

A single vehicle collision has taken out a fire hydrant and a utility pole on Cherry at Baum.

Photo by David Day

At 10:40 p.m. E-911 Dispatch received a call that a dark blue Kia SUV had impacted a utility pole on Cherry Street near East. The first officer on scene called in that a fire hydrant had also been impacted and that water was gushing into the roadway.

Photo by David Day

Neither the driver or the passenger of the Kia was injured however a man was taken into custody at the scene.

No disruption of utility services in the area was noted and that traffic was flowing smoothly.

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Crime

High speed chase ends in fiery crash

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(photo by David Day)

A high-speed chase Saturday evening that began near the Waffle House in Vicksburg has ended in a crash in Claiborne County and a vehicle in flames.

First reports indicate the incident began around 5:10 p.m. as an argument at the Waffle House at 4100 Pemberton Square Blvd. A man and woman left the scene and stopped at a Shell gas station on U.S. Highway 61 South where the man pulled the woman, who is pregnant, out of the vehicle by her hair.

The man, Bojara O’Quinn of Claiborne County, then fled, leading Vicksburg police officer Michael Battle on a high-speed chase south on 61 South. The chase exceeded 110 mph at times.

The chase ended just inside the Claiborne County line on Shiloh Road in a crash where the vehicle, reportedly a rental with Illinois plates, burst into flames. The crash occurred right at 5:30 p.m.

O’Quinn is in custody and received minor injuries in the crash. The woman involved received very minor injuries and is apparently safe.

Deputies with the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department, and troopers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol assisted in O’Quinn’s capture.

Bojara O’Quinn (photo by David Day)

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