Pressure has mounted on state leaders this month to ditch the divisive symbol, and on Tuesday, both Walmart and the state’s largest Baptist group added their voices to that mix.
The retail giant announced it would no longer display the Mississippi flag in its stores, while the Mississippi Baptist Convention, which represents more than half a million churchgoers, urged state leaders to adopt a new flag.
“While some may see the current flag as a celebration of heritage, a significant portion of our state sees it as a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred,” the Baptist group’s board said in a statement. “The racial overtones of this flag’s appearance make this discussion a moral issue.”
It’s unclear whether the state’s Republican-dominated state legislature will do so. On Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) rejected an early proposal from legislators to create a second, alternate state flag, derisively calling it “the ‘Separate but Equal’ flag option.”
“I don’t believe it would satisfy either side of this debate, and I don’t think it is a viable alternative,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mississippi didn’t actually adopt its state flag until nearly three decades after the Civil War. Its creation in 1894 was a direct appeal to aging Confederate veterans and a nod to white supremacy, according to an account published by the Mississippi Historical Society.
“Doing so not only reassured Confederate veterans who feared that their service and cause would be forgotten, but it also shored-up the persistence of white supremacy as the state proceeded to eliminate voting rights, deny access to educational equality, and strip basic safety from black communities,” wrote Stephanie Rolph, an associate professor at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss.
Mississippi, where today 38 percent of the population is black, held a statewide vote in 2001 on the flag, which was backed by more than 60 percent.
After a white supremacist murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston in 2014, all eight of Mississippi’s public universities and a number of cities in the state stopped flying the state flag. But the legislature declined to change it.
Now, as Confederate monuments fall across the nation amid a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement and the Confederate flag has been banned from all NASCAR events, momentum is building for a change in Mississippi’s statehouse.
Walmart says it won’t display the flag, citing the ongoing debate over its future.
“While the issue continues to be discussed, we’ve made the decision to remove the Mississippi state flag from display in its current form from our stores,” spokeswoman Anne Hatfield told the Commercial Appeal.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention, meanwhile, argued it is un-Christian to keep flying a flag that is hurtful to a large part of the state’s population.
“Currently 38 percent of Mississippi is black, and many of those Mississippians are hurt and shamed by the historical symbolism of the current flag,” the group said. “For followers of Christ to stand by indifferently and allow this to exist is inconsistent with … these clear teachings of Christ.”
Reeves, though, has repeatedly said he’s reluctant to change the flag without another public vote, citing the results of the 2001 ballot.
“I’m certainly open to having any conversations,” Reeves said last week. “But I believe very strongly that if we’re going to change the flag, the people of Mississippi should be the ones who make that decision.”