- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

From combined dispatches

JACKSON, Miss. — The Confederate flag scored an overwhelming victory last night in Mississippi, where two-thirds of voters rejected a move to redesign the state flag to remove the Southern emblem.
With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, 450,933 voters, or 65 percent, favored keeping the present flag and 242,989 voters, or 35 percent, wanted to replace it.
"Im just as proud as I can be tonight," Southern heritage activist Quentin Laymon of Southaven, Miss. told The Washington Times last night.
Mr. Laymon, who is the 1st Congressional District coordinator for FreeMississippi.org, said the margin of victory surprised even him.
"I had figured about 60-40 originally," he said. By comparison, George W. Bush carried the state in November with 58 percent of the vote.
Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, an opponent of the present flag, said the referendum has settled the dispute over the flag.
"Our people have spoken," Mr. Musgrove said in a statement. "It is important that we accept the majority vote and move forward with the business of bringing new jobs and better opportunities to all Mississippians."
Mississippi is the last state to prominently display the emblem on its flag but the first to hold a referendum on the issue.
Voters had two choices: keep the current 1894 flag with the Confederate emblem of 13 white stars on a blue X, or adopt a new flag with 20 white stars on a blue square, denoting Mississippis role as the 20th state.
Mississippians backed the current flag despite the opposition of the states media, political and business leadership, claiming that the state would suffer if black groups mounted a boycott such as that against South Carolina.
"It was a grass-roots effort, it really was," Mr. Laymon said. "The opposition had $750,000 money that was raised from a lot of fatcat white businessmen. We worked on a shoestring and we beat em."
In a state where William Faulkner said the past is never dead, the flag debate, while largely peaceful, polarized voters along racial lines.
In DeSoto County, a predominantly white county in the Memphis suburbs, the old flag led by a 6-to-1 ratio.
In Hinds County, the majority-black county that includes Jackson, the new flag led 2-to-1.
The state, with 2.8 million people, is 61 percent white and 36 percent black.
The debate arose after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled last May that the state technically has no flag, because the 1894 design was left out when the state code was updated in 1906. The Legislature decided to let the voters choose.
Former Gov. William Winter, who led a commission last year that recommended a new banner, said he was disappointed.
"I take reassurance in the fact that so many Mississippians did cast a vote for a symbol of unity for our state," Mr. Winter said. "I hope that out of this effort will come an increased understanding of our continuing obligation to work for a Mississippi that has its face turned to the future and not the past."
But former state Sen. Robert Crook said there were few complains about the flag until Mr. Winter made it an issue.
"I dont think black people were upset with the flag. There was no hue and cry, no boycotts," Mr. Crook said.
Other Southern states have revoked symbols of the Confederacy under threat of boycotts from black groups.
South Carolina lawmakers, under economic pressure from the NAACP, last year removed a Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse dome. In January, Georgia legislators shrank the Confederate symbol that had dominated that states flag since 1956.
Many Alabama cities and counties have stopped flying the states flag a red X over a white background, adopted in 1895 because some think it bears too strong a resemblance to the Confederate battle flag.
Mr. Laymon said opponents of Southern heritage had overreached in Mississippi.
"Weve had enough of people from out of state telling us how we should think. And that was decisive today."

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