January 31, 2018 10:02:23 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi lawmakers won't consider erasing the Confederate emblem from the state flag this year because there's no consensus among them on making a change, a leader in the state House said Tuesday.
Several flag bills were filed this year. Some would remove the Confederate emblem that critics see as racist. Others would require the current flag to be flown at universities and other government buildings. All of the bills died because they weren't brought up for a committee vote before a Tuesday deadline.
Another bill that died Tuesday would have changed the holiday that honors both civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The bill would have left a King day in January and set a Lee day a week later.
Mississippi and Alabama are the last states with the King-Lee day after Arkansas eliminated its dual holiday in 2017, keeping King day in January and setting a Lee memorial day, not a state holiday, in October.
Debate on Confederate symbols and holidays would be "super divisive" and legislators have other issues to handle, said Republican Rep. Jason White, chairman of the Mississippi House Rules Committee.
"We've just got such real problems that plague our state," White said, citing work on education, Medicaid and the state budget.
The rebel symbol has been on the Mississippi flag since 1894. Residents who voted in a 2001 referendum chose to keep the flag.
Supporters see the Confederate emblem as a symbol of history and heritage, while critics say it is a reminder of slavery and segregation and does not fully represent a state with a 38 percent black population.
The banner and other Confederate symbols have come under increased scrutiny since 2015, when nine black worshippers were gunned down in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. A white man who had posed in photos glorifying the rebel flag was sentenced to death in the fatal shootings, which authorities contend were racially motivated.
All eight of Mississippi's public universities and several cities and counties have stopped flying the flag.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said repeatedly that if the flag design is to be reconsidered, it should be done in another statewide election.
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