March 9, 2016 11:13:31 AM
JACKSON -- A South Carolina lawmaker is joining other black leaders in calling for Mississippi to change the last state flag that includes the Confederate battle emblem.
Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg spoke Tuesday to more than 200 people at a change-the-flag rally outside the Mississippi Capitol -- an event organized by attorneys suing Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in federal court. The suit asks a federal judge to declare the flag an unconstitutional vestige of slavery.
"If your governor needs to see an example of what it means to lead as governor, maybe he should look at South Carolina's very own Republican governor, Nikki Haley," said Justin Bamberg, who is from the same hometown as Haley.
Haley and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers removed a Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse lawn in Columbia last summer in response to the massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The white man charged in the attack had previously posed for photos with a rebel flag.
The 122-year-old Mississippi flag is the last in the nation with the Confederate battle emblem -- a red field topped with a blue X dotted by 13 white stars.
Old South symbols have come under sharp debate since the Charleston attack, and several Mississippi cities and counties, and some universities, have stopped flying the state flag since then. But legislative leaders this year decided not to have the Mississippi House or Senate debate bills that would have either removed the rebel emblem from the flag or taken away state money from local governments and colleges that refuse to fly the current banner.
On sunny, breezy afternoon, people at the rally Tuesday chanted: "It must come down!"
It was the second such event, of similar size, in the past month. Flag supporters, including Sons of Confederate Veterans members, held their own rally outside the Capitol in January.
Bryant recently proclaimed April as Confederate Heritage Month, and that drew strong rebukes at the rally.
"It's time for white, Christian Mississippians to face up to that flag for what it is. That Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy, and white supremacy is the biggest lie that Satan ever told," said Vicki Slater of Jackson, a white Democratic attorney who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year.
One of the attorneys suing the governor said Mississippi must erase the Confederate battle emblem from the flag because it promotes inequality and fails to represent African-Americans who make up 38 percent of the state's population.
"A large percentage of Mississippians view the Confederate battle emblem as an inglorious, racist relic of the past that defaces the state flag," J. Wyndal Gordon of Baltimore said at the rally.
Gordon joined Mississippi attorney Carlos Moore in the federal lawsuit. The state has not yet responded, but Bryant has said repeatedly that if the flag design is to be reconsidered, voters should decide the issue.
Moore said he believes God has a plan to change the flag, including the 2008 election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president and Obama's choosing U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who is black. Reeves will hear the flag lawsuit, although Moore said he hasn't spoken to the judge. Moore also mentioned the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as part of the divine plan.
"When we get that fifth liberal progressive on the court, after Judge Reeves takes it down, it's going to stay down," Moore said.
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