Bridge’s ‘flag lady’ Millsaps dies

Published 11:46 am Thursday, June 2, 2011

In 1994, Blanche Millsaps led the effort to raise a U.S. flag and keep it flying over the old U.S. 80 bridge over the Mississippi River. She said that first flag was dedicated to U.S. servicemen “present and absent,” and it brought Vicksburg attention from all over the country.

Millsaps died Wednesday, June 1, 2011, at River Region Medical Center. She was 80.

Bridge superintendent Herman Smith said that what has come to be recognized as a symbol of Vicksburg would not be there if it had not been for Millsaps.

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“She was just a great lady,” Smith said today. “I hate to see her gone.”

Millsaps, known to some as “the flag lady,” so believed in the project that for many years she bought the flags herself, said her daughter, Earline Millsaps of Hood River, Ore.

Each costs about $600 and has to be replaced every three to four months. In recent years, the money has been raised or donated by people who want a flag to fly in memory of a loved one, said Smith.

“I’ve had people tell me, when they’ve been out of town and come back over the I-20 bridge and saw that flag, they knew they were home,” Smith said.

Earline Millsaps said her mother was also dedicated to Mississippi politics, and worked for the Republican Party as well as the Civil Rights Movement.

“She was instrumental in getting some laws passed in the state Legislature,” Earline Millsaps said, including at least one that helped protect victims of domestic abuse.

She visited Cleveland, in the Mississippi Delta, in the 1960s to help with voter registration of blacks, and her car often was ticketed by police trying to keep her from getting to the polls, said her daughter. “She was very concerned about the fact that ‘separate but equal’ was, in fact, not equal,” she added, and worked to see that practice changed.

Blanche Millsaps was born and raised in Sumrall. She moved to Vicksburg in 1966 when her husband, David Millsaps, who worked for Mississippi Power & Light came to help the start-up of the Baxter-Wilson steam-generating electric plant.

She worked for South Central Bell and was a member of the Telephone Pioneers, a group that produced a Vicksburg cookbook to raise money for worthy projects and needy individuals.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Millsaps was part of a group that tied and gave away more than 1,000 red, white and blue ribbons unifying Vicksburg in honoring those who died.

Her mother’s dedication to others and her projects were a lasting influence, said Earline Millsaps, a retired nuclear engineer.

“She was a very good role model for a young girl who wanted to become an engineer,” Earline Millsaps said, her voice breaking slightly. “She always made me believe I could do anything I wanted to do.”

The Army-Navy Club of Vicksburg began taking over flag duties as Blanche Millsaps’ health began to fail and will continue the tradition in her honor, said Smith.

“The last year or year and a half were tough on her, but she was able to make all of the flag raisings up until the last two,” said Smith.

“It’s our intent to come up with a name (for the program) that honors Blanche,” said Louis Decell of the Army-Navy Club. “We don’t want this practice to end, and she was pleased that someone wanted to continue it.”

The next flag raised, purchased by the Army-Navy Club, will be in her honor, said Decell.

She was a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

In addition to her daughter, Blanche Millsaps leaves her son, David Millsaps, of Richland, Wash.

Blanche Millsaps will be buried in Sumrall, her daughter said. Funeral arrangements were incomplete with Glenwood Funeral Home in charge.