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Rebel flag on civil rights hero’s grave gets widow’s pardon

November 28, 2018

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2017 file photo, Ellie Dahmer views the exhibits at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum during a private preview in Jackson, Miss. The widow of a slain civil rights activist, Vernon Dahmer, says she forgives the person who draped a Confederate battle flag over her husband’s gravesite. Dahmer tells The Associated Press on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, that her family was told that the black woman who left the flag Tuesday did it to protest “how much hate was in that Confederate flag.” (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The 93-year-old widow of a slain civil rights activist in Mississippi said Wednesday that she forgives the person who draped a Confederate battle flag over her husband’s gravesite.

Ellie Dahmer (DAY’-mur) said her family was told that the black woman who left the flag Tuesday did it as a protest to teach a grandchild about the state’s history, and the bad things the flag represents.

“We were told that she was telling her grandson about that flag — about how much hate was in that Confederate flag,” Dahmer told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Vernon Dahmer is buried in south Mississippi’s Jones County. He was killed in January 1966 when the Ku Klux Klan firebombed his family’s home in nearby Forrest County because he helped other black people register to vote.

The flag was left on his grave the same day Mississippi voters were deciding a U.S. Senate runoff in which the state’s history of racist violence became a central theme.

Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge said his office received a call Tuesday morning that a flag and a red noose made of rope or yarn had been left on Vernon Dahmer’s grave. He said investigators found that the items were left by a black woman. Hodge would not release the woman’s identity, saying “she’s a mental patient.” He would not elaborate on her condition.

Hodge said Vernon Dahmer Jr. told investigators that the family does not want to press charges against the woman who left the items.

Ellie Dahmer told AP that she thinks the woman made “an honest mistake.”

“My husband would be living if not for that Confederate flag,” Ellie Dahmer said.

The Confederate battle flag has a red field topped by a diagonal blue cross with 13 white stars. It is often carried by hate groups, including the KKK.

The battle flag also appears on the upper left corner of the state flag that Mississippi has used since 1894. Voters chose to keep the state flag in a 2001 election, but all of Mississippi’s public universities and several cities and counties have stopped flying it in recent years. Many of them removed it after June 2015, when a white supremacist shot nine black worshippers to death in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Mississippi police are investigating seven nooses that were found in trees Monday outside the state Capitol in Jackson. Six signs were left near the nooses. One referred to the runoff between appointed Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is white, and Democrat Mike Espy, who is black. The sign read: “We need someone who respects the lives of lynch victims.”

Another sign read: “We’re hanging nooses to remind people that times haven’t changed.”

Hyde-Smith, who defeated Espy on Tuesday to win the final two years of a term, was sharply criticized for a video that showed her praising a supporter by saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” She said the hanging remark was an “exaggerated expression of regard” for the supporter, but the remarks drew sharp criticism in a state with a 38 percent black population. She apologized “to anyone that was offended.”

Espy was trying to become the first African-American U.S. senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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