Mississippi legislators could vote as early as Saturday on the future of the last state flag in the US that includes the Confederate battle emblem.
Pressure to change the flag has grown rapidly over the past three weeks amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.
Legislators could adopt a new Mississippi flag without Confederate imagery, or could send the volatile issue to a statewide election, giving voters choices that might or might not include the current banner.
The battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars — has been in the upper-left corner of the Mississippi flag since 1894.
White supremacists in the state legislature added the emblem to the flag amid backlash to the political power African Americans gained after the Civil War.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the flag lacked official status. State laws were updated in 1906, and portions dealing with the flag were not carried forward. Legislators set a flag election in 2001, and voters kept the rebel-themed design.
However, the flag has remained divisive in a state with a 38% black population. All of the state’s public universities and several cities and counties have stopped flying it because of the Confederate symbol that many see as racist.
Influential business, religious, education and sports groups are calling on Mississippi to drop the Confederate symbol. Flag supporters say the banner should be left alone or put on the statewide ballot for voters to decide its fate.
Reverence Kenneth Maurice Davis, president of the Mississippi National Baptist Convention and pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in the coastal city of D’Iberville, was among a large group of African American religious leaders at the Capitol Thursday.
“Take down this flag — this symbol that continues to sway in the breeze of prejudice and racism,” Rev Davis said. “Take down this flag — this symbol that waves in the gale forces of intolerance and narrow-mindedness.”
Joe Brister, a retiree from Madison, Mississippi, circled the state Capitol building on Friday in a small truck with a large hand-painted sign showing the Mississippi flag and the words: “They will take FLAG GUNS and Freedom.” A Mississippi flag, a Trump 2020 banner and two other flags fluttered from poles on the truck.
Brister, who is white, said he was unhappy about the push to remove monuments and rename streets around the United States. He said questions about the Mississippi flag should be resolved by voters.
“I’m just here displaying the flag and trying to get our (legislators) to do their job instead of do what the out-of-town lobbyists and the big banks and the big money in Mississippi tell them to do,” Mr Brister said.