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Decision time… State makes choice in flag issue

By Staff
SPEAK UP  Jason Thompson casts his vote early today at the Lauderdale County Courthouse. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
April 17, 2001
JACKSON (AP) Mississippi's flag debate culminates today as voters decide whether to keep the last state banner with a prominent Confederate cross.
Voters have two choices: The 1894 flag with the Confederate emblem of 13 white stars on a blue X, or a new flag that replaces the Confederate symbol with 20 white stars on a blue square, denoting Mississippi's role as the 20th state.
Brisk voting was reported across the state as voters decided whether Mississippi will remain the last state to prominently display a Confederate battle emblem as part of its flag.
It's really heavy here this morning,'' said Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn of populous Hinds County. Some of my people tell my they've had to wait in line, and one person said that when he left his precinct a little after 7 a.m. there were 100 people lined up to vote.''
Voters were also reported lined up outside precincts in nearby Rankin county. Heavy voting was also reported along the Gulf Coast. Light turnout was reported in Warren County in extreme west Mississippi.
Polls will close at 7 p.m.
Ballots list the 1894 flag as Proposition A and the new design as Proposition B.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove who appointed a flag commission last year after the state Supreme Court found Mississippi hadn't had an official banner since 1906 planned to vote for the new design today in his home of Panola County.
I believe it's an opportunity to remove any obstacle that would stand in the way of bringing good jobs to our state,'' Musgrove said Monday.
The 1894 flag has continued to fly by tradition. Commissioners recommended a new design, which legislators altered before setting today's election.
The flag debate has remained largely an internal matter, with the national NAACP and several states' Sons of Confederate Veterans chapters helping finance campaigns but letting local leaders push their opposing messages to voters.
Supporters of the old flag see it as a tie to Mississippi's heritage, while new flag backers say the old design is forever tainted by racist groups. They argue keeping that flag will only isolate Mississippi from mainstream America.
Eugene Bryant of Monticello, president of the Mississippi NAACP, said the state needs a flag that represents all its citizens, not one that includes a Confederate symbol waved by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.
Mississippi has the perception of a racist state. In a global economy, Mississippi needs to present a flag that represents all its people,'' Bryant said Monday.
Kenneth McNease of Columbia is a Sons of Confederate Veterans member whose great-great grandfather, Jessie E. Farve, fought with the 17th Mississippi Cavalry. McNease said changing the flag won't change people's attitudes.
What's to stop them next year from saying we want to take the crosses off the churches because the Ku Klux Klan has been burning crosses in people's yards?'' he asked.
Advocates on both sides were reluctant to predict an outcome but in a poll last month, two-thirds of respondents favored keeping the 1894 flag.
The poll commissioned by The Associated Press, The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus, Emmerich Newspapers, The Sun Herald of Gulfport-Biloxi and WTVA-TV of Tupelo was conducted before advocates on either side geared up with radio ads, phone calls and rallies to persuade voters.
Four groups supporting a new flag have raised $705,501, according to reports filed last week in the secretary of state's office. The largest fund-raising group was Mississippi Legacy Fund, which listed donations from business leaders, lawyers and some famous Mississippians such as actor Morgan Freeman.
Four groups supporting the 1894 flag have reported raising $123,023. That includes $112,533 listed on a Sons of Confederate Veterans report filed Monday, six days after the disclosure deadline.
SCV's largest contributor was its own international headquarters in Columbia, Tenn., which gave $65,000. The group reported spending more than $57,000 on television, radio and newspaper advertising. It also bought yard signs and gave money to its local camps for campaign efforts.
South Carolina lawmakers, under economic pressure from the NAACP, last year removed a freestanding Confederate battle flag from atop the statehouse dome in Columbia. Georgia legislators in January shrunk the Confederate battle symbol that dominated that state's flag since 1956.
In the waning hours before Mississippi's vote, a Jackson State University political science professor said the flag debate had opened a new path for public discourse over racial issues.
If we don't continue the dialogue, we fall back into these camps, these divisions,'' Leslie B. McLemore said Monday at a media luncheon. One day we're going to have a new flag. It may not be in my lifetime. But for now, it's profoundly important that we continue the dialogue about race.''

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