Confederate flag debate sweeps South
WASHINGTON (CNN) – State legislators across the South are now taking up the debate over the prominence of the Confederate flag in their states after conservative leaders displayed a sudden swell of support on Monday for removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in South Carolina.
Hours later, Mississippi GOP House Speaker Philip Gunn said it was time for his state to change its flag, which includes the Confederate insignia — a sign of the slave-holding South.
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Gunn said Monday night in a Facebook post. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
As national Republican leaders — from the chairman of the Republican National Committee to most 2016 GOP contenders — backed South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s calls to remove the flag, the debate has now fully busted out of the Palmetto State and broached party lines.
South Carolina legislators will meet Tuesday to debate removing the flag, just hours after rallies were planned for the Statehouse grounds.
Civil rights leaders and black elected officials are now seizing the moment to renew their calls for the flag’s removal, driving off a resurgence of activism sparked by the racially-motivated killing of nine African-Americans by avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof, who had previously posted pictures online holding the Confederate flag.
Mississippi State Senator Kenneth Wayne Jones, a Democrat and the chairman of the state legislature’s black caucus, said Tuesday that South Carolina took a “bold step” forward and said his state will now follow that lead.
“They realize how offensive it is plus they also realize that most of the things that done now based on race, or hate crimes as we say, you see symbols like this and no longer can we afford to have everybody in a state represented by these symbols,” Jones said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.”
Mississippi in 2001 voted to keep the Confederate symbol as part of the state flag in a 2001 referendum, but Jones said recent events present an opportunity to reignite the debate — one that should focus on the idea of removing exclusive symbols from the Mississippi flag.
“Nothing represents African-Americans in that flag and in that Confederacy but the fact that the states didn’t hide the fact that from an economic development standpoint they were going to keep on owning people of color to do the work to make the money,” Jones said.
“What we’re saying is that in this day and time and in light of horrific events that has the dialogue going, it’s time for all of us to sit down — Progresssive individuals, Republicans, democrats, black, white — and say OK, let’s get a flag that represents the state as a whole and not just have a one-sided thing that stands for so much dark history in Mississippi,” Jones added.
Republican and Democratic leaders in the Tennessee state legislature are also taking a closer look at the Tennessee State flag, which includes Confederate symbols, and are calling for the removal of a bust of Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest which currently sits outside the state senate chamber
Activists are also calling for a closer look at the state flags of six other Southern states, in addition to those of Mississippi and Tennessee, which also include symbols evoking those states’ Civil War battle flags. They include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
And in Virginia, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe tied the shootings to a recent Supreme Court ruling on the use of the flag on state license plates, when he called for end to its use in that format in his state.
“I have directed Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne to develop a plan for replacing the currently-issued plates as quickly as possible,” McAuliffe said at an event Tuesday morning.
By Jeremy Diamond, CNN
CNN’s Ben Brumfield and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.