OXFORD — Oxford and Greenwood have become the latest cities to stop flying the Mississippi flag because it contains a Confederate battle emblem.
On Tuesday, the Oxford Board of Aldermen voted 7-0 and the Greenwood City Council voted 6-1 to remove the banner from city property. Oxford aldermen also adopted a resolution asking the Legislature to change the flag.
Confederate symbols, including the Mississippi flag, have come under increased scrutiny since the June 17 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Police say the attack was racially motivated, and the man charged in the killings had previously posed for photos holding the Confederate battle flag.
Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the Oxford and Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce, told city leaders that the Confederate flag is the “neck tattoo” of Mississippi, The Oxford Eagle reported.
“Everyone sees it,” Maynard said. “Economic developers statewide are having a very, very difficult time of selling Mississippi due to stereotypes out there. There’s a perception that’s difficult to overcome. Will taking it down create a flood of new jobs and industry? No, but it will help.”
Mississippi voters decided in a 2001 election to keep the flag the state has had since Reconstruction, with the Confederate symbol in the upper left corner. People who support the banner say it represents history and heritage and results of election should be respected. Critics say the flag is a divisive reminder of slavery and segregation that hurts Mississippi’s image.
The Tupelo City Council heard comments Tuesday from people for and against removing the state flag from city property. The council is asking Attorney General Jim Hood for an explanation of state laws about displaying the flag.
One section of Mississippi law makes flying the state flag optional, not mandatory: “The state flag may be displayed from all public buildings from sunrise to sunset; however, the state flag may be displayed from all public buildings 24 hours a day if properly illuminated.”
A separate section of law says: “The flag of the State of Mississippi and the flag of the United States shall be displayed in close proximity to the school building at all times during the hours of daylight when the school is in session when the weather will permit without damage to the flag.” This section says the school board is responsible for providing the flags, but there’s no penalty if the flags aren’t flown.
The capital city of Jackson stopped flying the Mississippi flag at City Hall several years ago. Among the local governments that have removed the flag from public property in recent weeks are Clarksdale, Columbus, Grenada, Hattiesburg, Leflore County, Magnolia and Starkville. The Gulf Coast Business Council and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce have both endorsed removing the Confederate emblem from the flag.
Petal aldermen voted in July to keep flying the state flag on city property.