- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

JACKSON, Miss. The silence has been almost deafening in the year since Mississippians went to the polls and voted 2-to-1 to keep their Confederate-themed state flag.
No boycotts have developed from civil rights groups. No racial confrontations over the flag have made headlines. There has been little public discussion over ousting politicians because of their support for the old flag or their advocacy for a proposed and failed new one.
The only bit of noticeable protest has been from Jim Giles of Rankin County, who pickets businesses and schools that don't fly the Mississippi banner. Mr. Giles, now running for Congress in a new central district, is sure to make support of the state flag a main theme in his campaign.
David Sansing, professor emeritus of history at the University of Mississippi, said he has been astonished by how few ripples the flag election has left.
"The fact that it was such an overwhelming defeat for the new flag is an indication that the flag was simply not as serious an issue as many of us thought it was," he said.
Mr. Sansing served with 16 others on a commission that studied Mississippi's banner and recommended replacing the Rebel battle flag in its upper left hand corner.
The flag's status came into question in 2000 when the state Supreme Court ruled that despite everyday use of the traditional banner, Mississippi had lacked an official flag since 1906, when state laws were updated and sections dealing with the flag were not carried forward.
After a series of raucous public hearings in late 2000 that sometimes were split along racial lines, the biracial commission designed a circle of 20 white stars on a blue background to replace the familiar Confederate battle emblem of 13 white stars on a blue X over a red field.
The ring of stars, they said, would represent Mississippi's admission as the 20th state in the union and would be a symbol behind which all people could unite.
Voters didn't see it that way.
On April 17, 2001, the two flag designs were on ballots statewide, and Mississippians voted 65 percent to 35 percent to keep the Confederate emblem originally put on the state flag in the post-Reconstruction days of 1894.
The results roughly reflected the racial makeup of Mississippi, where 61 percent of the 2.8 million residents are white and 38 percent are black.
The issue went to the voters because lawmakers opted not to set a design themselves.
"I like the flag because it represents what I consider the very best of Mississippi's past," said Thomas Ray Floyd, chairman of the Simpson County chapter of the League of the South, a group that defends Confederate heritage.
Mr. Floyd, an enthusiastic supporter of Mississippi's readopted banner, said last week that the Civil War was not fought over slavery but over states' rights. He said he differed with people who see the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of oppression. He sees it as a sign of the South's Christian heritage.
Unita Blackwell, a longtime civil rights activist and former mayor of the tiny Mississippi Delta town of Mayersville, said she's disappointed her home state didn't let go of a symbol she has seen waved at Klan rallies and used to terrorize people promoting racial equality.
She said she was surprised that despite months of public discussion before the flag election, very little was said in the months immediately afterward.
Then came the September 11 attacks.
"I guess everybody is focused on what's happening with the whole blowup of the buildings and what's going to happen next," said Miss Blackwell, who has noticed a proliferation of American flags, even in parts of Mississippi that once were more likely to fly the Confederate banner than the stars and stripes.
Mississippi is the last state to prominently feature the Confederate cross on its flag, but it's not the only state to have struggled with the symbol.
As Mississippi's flag commission was still grappling for a new design proposal, Georgia legislators voted quickly to move a prominent Confederate X from their flag and include it among several historic flags at the bottom of the state banner. It was a decision applauded by some and greeted with hostility by others.
In South Carolina, the NAACP led a boycott before legislators agreed to remove a free-standing rebel flag from atop the statehouse. Civil rights leaders are still unhappy, and the boycott continues over a compromise that moved the flag to a pole next to the building.
Greg Stewart of Oxford, who led efforts to keep the traditional Mississippi flag, said he doesn't see any political fallout for officials here who opted to let people vote on flag designs.
"A year later, looking back on it, to me all is forgiven," Mr. Stewart said. "If you got on the wrong side of it but if you're otherwise a good policy-maker, I'll still vote for you."
Mr. Sansing said it's tough to gauge whether Gov. Ronnie Musgrove will be hurt. Mr. Musgrove created the flag commission and then endorsed its recommendation of a new design. Since the election, he has said repeatedly that he accepts the voters' decision.
"He's got lots more trouble than that flag," Mr. Sansing said, noting Mr. Musgrove's struggles with lawmakers over the state budget, Medicaid and other issues. "I see a minimal reaction by some of these flag groups that may just hold him responsible for letting the issue get as far as it did."


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