Flying flags on the Coast
By By Terry Cassreino / assistant managing editor
July 21, 2002
It just won't go away.
No matter how much Mississippi tries, the state just can't escape controversy surrounding the use of the Confederate battle flag more commonly called the Rebel flag.
The latest dispute is happening on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the state's premier tourist destination, at a beach-front display that marks the line dividing the cities of Biloxi and Gulfport.
There, at the corner of U.S. 90 and DeBuys Road, Harrison County maintains the Eight Flags display the last remnant of a long-gone petting zoo and Wild West attraction of the same name.
County supervisors agreed in May to return the Confederate flag and seven others to a display originally intended to honor the eight countries whose banners had flown over Coast since 1699.
Among them are Spain, France, the United States and, yes, the Confederate States of America.
The eight flags were to join American flags that had been flying there since just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Apparently, the American flags will remain a part of the display.
But unfortunately for the Coast, controversy also has become part of the display. Opponents led by an Alcorn State University senior have demanded the removal of the Confederate banner.
ASU student Jason Whitfield went to the beach earlier this month and vowed to stay until the county removed the flag. More than 40 others joined him in the effort two days later.
That drew flag supporters to the scene, including many who aren't even from Mississippi the norm, it seems, whenever this issue surfaces. They called for the preservation of the flag.
The dispute has even attracted the European-American Unity and Rights Organization.
And that's just what Mississippi needs right now, a group aligned with former Ku Klux Klan leader and one-time politician David Duke injecting itself into an issue that doesn't even concern them.
At the same time, a regional director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also has joined in the debate. The Rev. Charles White arrived on the Coast on Friday.
And while White's presence also may raise valid criticism, the NAACP is no doubt a much more reputable and distinguished organization than Duke's group.
Many Mississippians thought they ended the Rebel flag issue in 2001 when they voted by an overwhelming majority to keep the Confederate symbol part of the 1890 state flag.
That vote came hot on the heels of a statewide debate over the historical merits of the Confederate flag similar issues now being raised on the Coast.
Unfortunately, no one is willing to admit one key point: the flag is a debate no one can win just like arguments over the merits of the death penalty and the morality of abortion.
And, unfortunately, the state and its reputation hangs in the balance as out-of-state organizations inject their sides into an issue that just won't go away.