JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Confederate-themed Mississippi flag drew opposition Tuesday from two great forces in the culturally conservative state: Southern Baptists and Walmart.
Walmart said it will stop displaying the Mississippi flag as the state debates whether to change the design. The Mississippi Baptist Convention said lawmakers have a moral obligation to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag because many people are “hurt and ashamed” by it.
“We believe this is the right thing to do and is consistent with Walmart’s position of not selling merchandise under the Confederate flag of online stores and sites, as part of our commitment to provide a welcoming and inclusive experience for all of our customers in the communities we serve.” , said company spokeswoman Anne Hatfield.
Ads increase the pressure for change in a state that is slow to accept it. Protests against racial injustice in the United States are focusing new attention on Confederate symbols.
Mississippi has the latest state flag that includes the Confederate battle emblem: a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The NCAA, the Southeast Conference, major business organizations, and other faith groups have already called on the state to adopt a more inclusive banner.
The conservative, white-majority Mississippi Baptist Convention has more than 500,000 members in more than 2,100 churches. Mississippi’s population is approximately 3 million, and 38% of residents are African American.
“While some may view the current flag as a celebration of heritage, an important part of our state views it as a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred,” the Baptist group said in a statement. “The racial connotations of the appearance of this flag make this discussion a moral issue.”
White supremacists in the Mississippi Legislature embedded the symbol in the upper left corner of the state flag in 1894, amid the backlash to political power that African Americans won during Reconstruction.
During a 2001 state election, voters chose to keep the design. Republican Governor Tate Reeves has said that if the flag is to be changed, it must be done by another state election.
Lawmakers are trying to end their annual session in the coming days. A bipartisan group has been trying to gather enough votes to change the flag, but it is a difficult task. Some legislators do not want changes. Others want to make a decision on a state election because they believe that changing the flag could jeopardize their own political careers.
Members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus renewed on Tuesday their old calls for the Legislature to remove the Confederate symbol, saying another state election would be bitter and divisive.
In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the flag lacked official status because lawmakers did not include the design when they updated other state laws in 1906. That meant the Confederate-themed design had been used for nearly a century by tradition instead of of by law. Then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, appointed a 17-member commission to study flag design in 2000 and make recommendations to the Legislature.
State Democratic Representative Ed Blackmon of Canton served on the commission, which held public hearings in late 2000.
“You have no idea of the vitriol, hate, and evil pronouncements that were bestowed on those of us who were present,” Blackmon said Tuesday. “He brought out the worst in Mississippians.”
Lawmakers in early 2001 chose to put the issue on the ballot rather than decide it themselves. Voters rejected a design that would have replaced the Confederate symbol with a blue field topped by a group of white stars representing Mississippi as the 20th state.
All Mississippi public universities stopped flying the state flag years ago because of the Confederate symbol. Several cities and counties have also removed it from public ownership, some long ago and others recently. On Tuesday, the leaders of the 15 community colleges said the state should change the flag.