Mississippi town embroiled in lawsuit over Confederate emblem on state flag

An activist group in the state is seeking to remove the symbol which sits as part of the state's flag and has been the subject of controversy

A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, April 4, 2018, says the Mississippi flag is “racially demeaning and hostile” because it contains the Confederate battle emblem. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

The Mississippi state flag is one of a handful of state emblems that still features the Confederate battle flag. The flag has long been seen by people of color as an enduring symbol of racism and prejudice and one activist group in Mississippi has filed a federal lawsuit to stop one city from flying it.

The Jackson Clarion Ledger reports that the suit was filed by a group called the Mississippi Rising Coalition, which advocates for removing the Confederate emblem from the flag and whose leaders have repeatedly asked Ocean Springs officials to stop flying the banner, calling it “racially demeaning and hostile.”

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Others plaintiffs are the coalition’s president, Lea Campbell; Ocean Springs resident Ronald Vincent, and Curley Clark, who is the president of the Jackson County NAACP.

A message to African-Americans

“Ocean Springs’ display of the Mississippi state flag is intended to — and does — send a message to its African-American citizens that they are second-class citizens and are not welcome in Ocean Springs,” the suit says. “It also sends a message to African-Americans who might consider living or visiting the city that they too are not welcome and it deters them from moving into the city or visiting the city for both social and commercial purposes.”

Ocean Springs, a coastal city with a population of about 18,000, is about 7.5 percent black. The city government didn’t fly the flag for several years under a previous Democratic mayor. After a new Republican mayor, Shea Dobson, took office last July, the flag went back up.

READ MORE: N.C. firefighters refuse to take down Confederate flag even after funding gets pulled

A 2016 federal lawsuit sought to have the Mississippi flag declared an unconstitutional relic of slavery. A federal district judge rejected that argument, and higher courts refused to overturn that decision.

Confederate symbols have been the subject of widespread debate across the South and around the country for decades. The battle flag was not a major symbol of the post-Civil War South until the late 1940s when the burgeoning Civil Rights movement led to the flag becoming a symbol of the resistance from segregationists.

It has developed renewed focus in since the 2015 killing of nine worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C., and the later after the violence that erupted last August when a white supremacist rally took place in Charlottesville, Va.

Little progress so far

TNathan Lokius Fairley, spokesman for Mississippi Rising Coalition, said three members recently received threatening messages from a man who claims to be a Ku Klux Klan member. Campbell told The Associated Press in an interview that the LGBTQ community along with people of color have tried to have constructive conversations with Ocean Springs officials about removing the flag but have met with silence.

“We’ve been dismissed and ignored and, in some cases, even shouted down and laughed at by the mayor and aldermen,” she said.

Mississippi residents voted in a 2001 statewide election to keep the Confederate emblem on the flag. However, several Mississippi cities and counties, along with all eight public universities, have stopped flying the flag in recent years amid criticism that the Confederate emblem is a racist reminder of slavery and segregation.