Flag vote nearing, both sides step up rhetoric

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 16, 2001

W.S. Taylor, right, from Greenville, signs a petition Saturday at the Battlefield Inn calling for consitutional protection for the current state flag from further challenges. At left is Greg Nail of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[04/16/01] At a Civil War show in the Battlefield Inn on Saturday, supporters of the current Mississippi flag talked about why keeping it is so important to them.

As Tuesday’s statewide vote on the issue approaches, residents of Vicksburg and other Mississippians are preparing to decide whether to keep a 107-year-old flag some say represents history or to replace it with a new one said to promote harmony.

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“This is the biggest battle since the war ended,” Noel Honeycutt of Jackson said. “We are trying to save our state flag.”

Honeycutt said the flag represents the history of Mississippi for both blacks and whites, and regardless of what happens Tuesday, history can’t be changed.

“It’s like Winston Churchill said, If you don’t have a past, you don’t have a future.’ The flag represents our past,” Honeycutt said.

However, some state leaders said changing the flag is important in making all residents of the state feel like they are a part of Mississippi.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, will be going door to door today and speaking at several area churches to drum up support for the new flag.

“This is an opportunity to express to the nation that we are a Mississippi of unity, one state and one flag that represents all of Mississippi,” Flaggs said. “We have a chance to put something that separates us behind us.”

Flaggs said opponents of the current flag aren’t trying to change history but are merely attempting to move on.

“You can’t ever change history, but we can move forward,” he said. “From here forth, we can say that Mississippi is a different, better Mississippi.”

At the Civil War show, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans presented a petition to the public to change the Constitution, so if the flag stands, it will become unconstitutional to attempt to change it again.

Honeycutt said they would need about 92,000 signatures and already have garnered a lot of support.

Wayne McMaster, a Vicksburg resident and state officer for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said not only is the flag a part of Mississippi’s heritage, but state leaders could have used the money spent on the issue to address more important concerns.

“They are wasting time and money on a non-issue,” McMaster said. He said even if the flag is changed, it won’t help young people learn to read or write or decrease the number of teen pregnancies across the state.

“We need to help with education,” McMaster said of the $3 million being used to fund the flag election. “State educators are cheating the students. There is a big area they should be working on instead.”

McMaster also said he thinks the flag debate and a flag vote have done more to divide people racially than to bring them together.

“I’ve heard things recently that I haven’t heard since the ’60s,” he said.

Ron Dugger, Jackson resident and supporter of the current flag, agreed that the flag debate is a racial issue.

“It’s a black-and-white issue,” he said. “It’s racism to one group, heritage to another group, and then there is one group who doesn’t care because they don’t even know what the Civil War was.”

Dugger said he thinks the election will reflect poll results conducted by news organizations across the state and released this month that show two-thirds of the state want to keep the present flag. The poll also showed opinions were primarily divided along racial lines.

However, Flaggs said the issue is more about right or wrong than black or white.

“If the flag is a threat to one person, then it should be a threat to everyone,” he said.

Ray McMahan, of Dallas, Ga., who was at the Civil War Show, said regardless of what people decide Tuesday, Mississippians are fortunate for being allowed to be a part of the process. Georgia’s flag, which also contained a Confederate Battle Emblem, was changed in 2000.

“I’m glad you get to vote,” McMahan said. “In Georgia, it ran through the Legislature, and they already had a new flag designed, and the people had no say so.”