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Notable Mississippians join chorus to change state flag

JACKSON — Jimmy Buffett, John Grisham, Morgan Freeman and former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning are among famous current and former Mississippi residents asking the state to remove the Confederate battle emblem from its flag.

The famed musician, author, actor and athlete joined 60 others in signing a letter titled “A Flag for All of Us,” that appeared as a full-page ad in Sunday’s edition of The Clarion-Ledger.

“It is simply not fair, or honorable, to ask black Mississippians to attend schools, compete in athletic events, work in the public sector, serve in the National Guard, and go about their normal lives with a state flag that glorifies a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved,” the letter states.

Others who signed it include Kathryn Stockett, author of “The Help;” Grammy-winning producer Glen Ballard, Basketball Hall of Famer Bailey Howell, former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford, and former Gov. William Winter.

State governments and businesses around the U.S. have removed Confederate symbols since Dylann Roof was accused in June of killing nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof appeared in photos with the Confederate flag, and authorities believe the slayings to be a hate crime.

Following a contentious and emotional debate, lawmakers in South Carolina agreed to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the Statehouse. It was taken down last month.

“The Rebel flag was never meant to fly over state capitols” — it was designed as a bright rallying point that could be seen even in the smoke of battle, the letter said. It noted that after the war, Gen. Robert E. Lee said, “It’s time to furl the flag, boys,” and told Southerners to “obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”

A number of prominent Mississippians — House Speaker Philip Gunn, the state’s Southeastern Conference football coaches, and even the great-great-grandson of Confederate President Jefferson Davis — already had said they believed it was time to retire the Confederate symbol from Mississippi’s flag.

“The tide is turning with business leadership saying it hurts our ability to recruit corporations and with coaches saying it hurts our ability to recruit athletes,” state Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, told The Clarion-Ledger on Saturday (http://on.thec-l.com/1gNdv2w). “The flag is a turnoff.”

But Greg Stewart, administrator of Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, said Saturday that use of the Confederate battle flag by rap and hip-hop artists “kind of sucks the wind out of the ‘offensive’ argument.”

Gov. Phil Bryant said voters made their views clear in 2001, when 64 percent rejected a proposal to change the state flag to 20 white stars on a blue field.

Fourteen years is a long time, said author Greg Iles, who signed the letter that appeared in Sunday’s paper.

“Think of America in 1931 and then in 1945 — that’s 14 years, and a tectonic shift in national identity. Think of 1961 and 1975,” he told the newspaper. “The Confederate flag is no longer a viable state or national symbol in 2015.”

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