- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

GAUTIER, Miss. (AP) - The Gautier City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to keep the flying the Mississippi flag, but also to support a call by the state House speaker to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the banner.

“That is our state flag out there,” Councilwoman Mary Martin said. “We voted for the Legislature to consider changing the state flag, and I agree with that. But until it is changed, our state flag should fly.”

Several cities and a few counties have furled the Mississippi flag during the past two months.

Confederate symbols have been debated across the South since the June 17 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The man charged in the slayings had been photographed holding the Confederate battle flag. Several days after the slayings, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, cited his Christian faith and said, “I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed.”

The state flag at Gautier City Hall was taken down quietly Aug. 19 without a formal vote. The American Legion maintains the Tribute Tower where flags fly outside Gautier City Hall, and after some Legion members spoke with the mayor, the state flag was quickly raised again.

The city council’s resolution calls for “a new state flag that all Mississippians can be proud of, while at the same time assuring the rights of anyone to preserve and display flags of their choice on their own real and personal properties.”

Multiple media outlets report that nearly two dozen people spoke about the flag during a public hearing Tuesday night in Gautier.

“It is a very divisive flag,” Jackson County NAACP President Curley Clark said. “It should be preserved from a historical standpoint, but not used as representative of all people. A few have used it in a wrong way. It is like looking at a burning cross.”

Several veterans also spoke and brought up a stark division. Some white veterans said they felt represented by the current state flag because they fought under it and the American flag. Some black veterans said they served under the U.S. flag alone.

“The current flag is the only official one we have,” said American Legion post commander Bill Whatley. “Should it be the will of the Mississippi people by popular or legislative vote to change the old, we will raise the new.”


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