Historians: Confederate emblem 'symbol of racial terror'
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
Aug. 22, 2017
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Historians in Mississippi say the Confederate battle emblem is a "symbol of racial terror" that needs to be stripped from the state flag.
Thirty-four professors released a statement this week saying they expect questions from students about the recent white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where some participants carried the rebel flag.
Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate symbol, a red field topped by a blue tilted cross dotted by 13 white stars.
The professors from public and private universities wrote that Mississippi legislators adopted the flag in 1894 to assert white supremacy.
"The threat of racist mob violence has been present throughout American history, and, as seen by the flag-wielding neo-Nazis and racist sympathizers in Charlottesville, the use of Confederate emblems echoes the racist reasoning of whites in Mississippi at the end of the 19th Century, who used terror to impose minority rule," they wrote.
Voters decided to keep the flag in a 2001 referendum. Confederate symbols have come under increasing scrutiny since 2015, when an avowed white supremacist who had posed for photos holding the battle flag killed nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Some Mississippi elected officials, including the Republican speaker of the state House and both of the state's Republican U.S. senators, have said the state should ditch the current flag and adopt a design that would unify the state, whose population is 38 percent black.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said if the design is reconsidered, it should happen in another statewide election. Supporters of the flag say it represents the state's history.
The professors wrote: "This flag does not reflect the entirety of the state's history and people. It ignores the reality of the African-American experience, and it limits the scope of what Mississippi has been, is, and can be."
About 40 other opponents of the Mississippi flag gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol. Aunjanue Ellis, an actress who grew up in Mississippi, said the Confederate battle emblem on the flag represents "terrorism."
Ellis has starred in the ABC series "Quantico" and in the 2011 movie "The Help." She has been advocating a change for the state flag for several years.
"This beautiful state that I live in has a history of domestic terrorism like no other state in the union," Ellis said. "And our children are going to school every day, walking under a flag that tells them that violence and terrorism against their lives is OK. And that's unacceptable. ... This country's ideals of justice and freedom for all will always be hollow and a lie as long as that flag flies."
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .