JACKSON —Both of Mississippi’s Republican U.S. senators said Wednesday that the state should remove a Confederate battle emblem from its flag — part of a wave of officials across the Deep South reconsidering symbols since last week’s massacre at a black church in South Carolina.
Sen. Thad Cochran said state symbols should reflect “unity and not divisiveness.”
“As a proud citizen of Mississippi, it is my personal hope that the state government will consider changing the state flag,” Cochran said. “The recent debate on the symbolism of our flag, which belongs to all of us, presents the people of our state an opportunity to consider a new banner that represents Mississippi.”
Cochran’s statement came hours after Sen. Roger Wicker said the flag used since Reconstruction “should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians.”
“As the descendant of several brave Americans who fought for the Confederacy, I have not viewed Mississippi’s current state flag as offensive,” Wicker said. “However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others.”
The white man charged in the slayings of nine black worshippers, Dylann Storm Roof, had posed in with the Confederate battle flag in photos posted online before the attack in Charleston.
Mississippi’s top officials are divided about the last state flag featuring the Confederate X. The state put the symbol on its flag in 1894, and voters reaffirmed the design in a 2001 statewide election.
Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, said this week that the design was settled 14 years ago. They said if it is to be reconsidered, it should be by another election rather than by the Legislature.
“It was put to a vote, and an overwhelming majority chose to keep the flag,” Bryant said Tuesday. “Mississippians have the right to revisit that decision either through their elected representatives in the Legislature or through the initiative process.”
The Republican state House speaker, Philip Gunn, and the Democratic attorney general, Jim Hood, said Christianity should compel the state to change the flag to remove a symbol many find offensive. State House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, a Republican, said Tuesday that the flag should be changed if it doesn’t unify the state.
The state Legislature is out of session now and is scheduled to start meeting again in January. The governor could call a special session, but it’s unclear if he will do that this year as he and other statewide officials and state lawmakers are seeking re-election.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat and the only black member of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, said he does not display the Mississippi flag in his office because he does not want to offend constituents.
“This flag is not just some piece of cloth that bears no importance; it is the physical manifestation of a time of hate, oppression and slavery that split this country at its seams,” Thompson said Tuesday. “It also serves as a barrier around the entire state of Mississippi telling everyone else in this country that progress is not welcomed here.”