/How a conservative Gulf Coast community grapples with the state flag debate

How a conservative Gulf Coast community grapples with the state flag debate

The conversation began from the far end of the bar when other regulars noticed it. They started hurling the “n-word” as they discussed the uprisings in many American cities after the shooting death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This has prompted the Mississippi state flag debate once more. Tina Harmon, Bill’s wife and quartermaster at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 62285, stated that she is not permitted to wear clothes that display the Rebel symbol, which includes her state’s flag to work. Tina Harmon stated, “It is my state flag and it makes me proud of the state.” Tina Harmon said, “And I should wear it.” Anna Wolfe Black Lives Matter activists from Mississippi organized a historic protest in Jackson on June 6. The event ended with line dancing and focused on adopting a new flag as one of its demands to advance racial equality. Jim Crow and slavery — both institutions that are closely tied to the Confederate battle emblem – have left a legacy of racial inequalities that still exist today. Black Mississippians are almost three times more likely than whites to be poor and jobless, and nearly twice as likely to seek work. Black families are able to hold about 10 cents for every dollar that white families own in America. Black communities are more isolated from medical facilities and grocery stores in the nation’s racially-segregated towns and cities. This leads to poorer health outcomes. Mississippi Today spoke to Bill Harmon just days before Gulfport and Bay St. Louis officials agreed to remove the state flag from their city halls. State lawmakers were considering what it would take in order to replace the flag entirely. Republican senator Phillip Moran from Kiln said that the issue flag issue should not be decided by the people. Kiln is not incorporated. It does not have a city hall. However, if it did, Stevie Haas would be the mayor. He is the founder of Broke Spoke. His customers agree. Haas stated, in reference to the Confederate battle emblem, “I don’t see what the big deal” The local chamber made a video to promote the award for Haas’ 35-year-old dive. It used footage shot at the bar’s side and back, and managed to avoid shots of the Rebel flag or the entrance. The iconography and propensity to use racist hate speech by some of the regulars of the bar are barely mentioned in the glowing newspaper profiles. Anna Wolfe Bill Harmon said that people who condemn Mississippi’s flag as glorifying the Confederacy, a republic not recognized by the United States Constitution and founded on the belief that Black people are inferior than white — could just be talking about their rival sports team. “I take offense at the flag of Atlanta Falcons. I take offense at the Carolina flag. He yelled, “And LSU,” over the cheers of his drinking friends. “Should they be thrown out? Because they are not my favorite.” Just a few minutes later, the Southeastern Conference declared that it would be looking into preventing championship events from being held in Mississippi. This was due to the divisive flag, which was last voted by citizens in 2001. The NCAA then banned all postseason college games in Mississippi the next day. State business leaders have supported the change of the flag. John Hairston, the CEO of Hancock Whitney Bank, and one of the most prominent business leaders of the state, advocated recently for the Legislature’s to change the flag without the need for a people vote. The flag issue had been a topic of heated debate in the Legislative session for days. As Friday nears, lawmakers have begun to examine the issue closer to the end of the Legislative session. Bill Harmon stated that Mississippi’s leaders will change its flag if they are forced to do so by outside pressure. He said that if it is returned to the people, which is the preferred option by many legislators in these conservative districts, then the Mississippi state flag “will stay the same.” Larry, an older white man who lives in Kiln for over 20 years and is against the current flag, agreed. “A vote by the people?” A vote would not happen. He said that it would need to be a mandate. They are racists. They want the flag to remain as it is. They would probably prefer the confederate portion of it to be a little larger,” Larry stated of his neighbors and the entire state. He was too afraid of retaliation for him to agree to his last name being printed. “They’re confused. They have been fed an information-dense diet that is harmful to them.” Recent polls show that support for the current flag is still higher than support for changing it. This is primarily due to the older population, but the gap is narrowing. A state flag should not be controversial, right? Isn’t this interesting? It should be possible to raise a flag and hold it without hesitation. It’s almost like that. “It should tell you that maybe it’s the worst option.” Larry stated that the remaining flag supporters have tightened their grip on the Stars and Bars. Larry explained that the “core of that is that each generation is taught by the previous generation that they are better than Black people.” Historical records show that the Confederate States of America was formed by the Southern states not only to preserve slavery, which was the region’s main economic driver, but also because of the foundation of white supremacy. Historians and educators from across the state agree that the Rebel battle flag is the most prominent relic of racism. Tina Harmon stated, “That’s what it doesn’t mean to me.” It’s history. But many Mississippi voters are still not aware of the context surrounding Confederacy and Civil War. “I can recall learning that we seceded. “I remember learning about issues regarding states rights. The issue of slavery was not something I was taught. Elizabeth Hegwood, a teacher from Pass Christian, 20 miles southwest of Kiln, said that she was not shown the Mississippi secession document. In the 1990s, she attended Long Beach High School. However, she didn’t know that the Confederacy had fought the Civil War over slavery until she arrived at University of Southern Mississippi. “I’ve been passionate about changing the flag since I first read it. Hegwood stated that I cannot imagine that as many people who claim it is our heritage have read our secession documents. “Mississippi seems completely unaware of the tenors of the rest of America is a bad appearance. I think that we’ve had this reputation for a long while and I’m really tired of it. It makes us look stupid.” Perhaps more unambiguous than Mississippi’s secession declaration, Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech”, Confederate Vice President, in 1861, which outlined the main divergence between the South and the North. “Its foundations have been laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro cannot equal the white man.” The Rebel battle emblem has been used by Americans to support segregation and intimidate African Americans since the modern era. Dylann Roof, the mass murderer, often photographed with the flag before he killed nine Black churchgoers in Charleston. The state eventually had to take the flag off its statehouse grounds in 2015. A younger, curly-haired, male drinker at the Broke Spoke Thursday pointed out a Confederate battle flag that was bolted to the ceiling just to the right. It was much more worn than the others and was a brighter red than the rest. He bowed a little and stated that the flag was the last to fly over South Carolina. It was brought down to Kiln by an acquaintance of the bar. According to the Associated Press, officials put the flag in a Columbia museum back in 2018. Rheta Grimsley, a longtime columnist and Pass Christian resident, stated that the flag is no longer a symbol for the Confederate Army. “It’s all all about what’s been since and who’s coopted that flag,” Anna Wolfe. “I had eight grandfathers, who all fought in Civil War in Tennessee or Mississippi. All of them were slave owners. These rednecks will say that it’s their heritage when they raise the flag. It was a flag, and it was a history of oppression, tyranny, and privilege.” “By 2001, I was convinced that this whole rebel flag thing was an outrage against any Mississippian who is black. It’s rude. It’s rude. It is an indictment against my grandparents. It shows the place that white people were 100 year ago when they raised the flag, which basically said, “Okay, black people! We’re in control.” Don’t forget it. It’s easy to forget if you try. Just look at this flag. Johnson was in Montgomery, Alabama when integration took place. She recalls when her school stopped flying the Rebel flag, and she was able to play “Dixie” at football matches. “We were both 15- and 16-years-olds, and it was no problem. It was granted. She said that it was 1968, 1969. “So it’s always surprised me that there’s such resistance among adults to move ahead and to get rid something that’s so clearly offensive.” Bill Harmon stated. Although they don’t give any concrete reasons for why they hold on to the Confederacy symbols or their place in Mississippi’s emblem, their arguments for keeping them suggests that they view the state flag as an advantage for their team. Bill Harmon stated, “If you want to get rid off something, let’s get rid Martin Luther King Boulevard.” Anna Wolfe: “How do we differentiate?” This mentality goes beyond the dive bar with the Rebel flag emblazoned. Mississippi Today heard the same refrain earlier in the day about street signs named for the civil rights leader, from a local politician’s spouse at the Kiln diner Cruise-In Cafe. She said, without naming her, “If you’re going be discriminative against one then it should all be taken care off.” “There shouldn’t be any, period.” Many Mississippians mistakenly associate a push for the removal of the Stars and Bars symbol from the state flag with a mandate to everyone stop displaying it on their private property. This notion has never been supported by any lawmaker or state official. Tina Harmon stated, “If I wear something similar to that, it’s because it’s not because it’s something I consider racism or any other kind of discrimination.” It can mean different things to different people. This may not be the case for me. I can be who I want to be. Mississippi Today asked Rickey Lewis, a teacher at Pass Christian High School, why he felt compelled to change. Lewis stated, “I’m going to not impose upon you something that hurts you.” Lewis stated that the flag is offensive to so many people in this state that it should be taken down. Things will get better if you remove many of these racist symbols. It won’t happen overnight but it will. But, as an educator, he has seen the ways young people become their beliefs in this particularly polarizing moment. He could sympathize with the passion they have for the state flag. Lewis stated, before pausing and exhaling a winced sigh, “Because many people are not.”_x000D