Mississippi mayor in tears after ordering removal of state flag from city buildings
City of the laurel
A black mayor in Mississippi held back tears when he signed an order to remove the state flag from outside Laurel City Hall and other urban properties.
The order, signed by Mayor Johnny Magee, states: "There is a time in the annals of history when it becomes necessary to redefine who we are and what constitutes a gathering of people" and the flag of the state - inclusive the battle of the confederate flag - "should be a unified picture of our ideals and values".
"Now is the time," he said.
Laurel's move follows a renewed debate about the future of the state flag in the course of global demonstrations against racial injustices as protesters seek removal of symbols of white supremacy, including statues from the Confederate period and the battle flag.
The current Mississippi flag was adopted in 1894, almost three decades after the U.S. Civil War, when the state was the second to leave the United States. In his declaration of secession, the Confederate Mississippi said: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest in the world."
"I don't apologize for being emotional," Mayor Magee said during a press conference on June 23. "I have lived through some things with this flag and, as you said [Martin Luther King Jr.], you should wait. The time to wait is over."
State legislature is ready this week to vote on a flag removal and replacement design.
Several powerful organizations in the state have also put pressure on Governor Tate Reeves and lawmakers to quickly adopt a new flag.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, the state's largest religious community, with more than 500,000 members and 2,100 churches, has called for a "change in the current flag to alleviate the damage done by its symbolism".
Walmart, which has 65 stores and more than 20,000 employees in the state, also announced that it will no longer fly the flag in its stores.
Last week, the NCAA announced that it would not be hosting major events in the state until the Confederate flag was removed. Several athletes have refused to play in protest.
Mississippi public university coaches joined the state legislature Black Caucus and black ministers from across the state in the capital city of Jackson on Thursday to pressure lawmakers to change the state flag.
City officials in Gulfport also unanimously voted to remove the flag, replacing it with an older design with a magnolia tree and a blue square with a white star representing the Confederacy Bonnie Blue flag.
However, the governor is reluctant to change the flag without a vote, he said. The state last voted on whether the design should be changed in 2001. More than 60 percent of voters agreed to leave it unchanged.
After the murders of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, North Carolina by a white supremacist in 2014, Mississippi public universities and several jurisdictions stopped flying the flag.
The flags in Laurel are withdrawn to a local library as part of a collection of historical documents and artifacts.
In his order, Mayor Magee wrote that flags "themselves grew to illustrate the threads of fabric that connect the fabric of the societies they represent and have served as a means of uniting the spirit and passion of citizens to unite in a voice and purpose of the state, all of which again show the importance attached to these flying emblems. "
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