Gulfport citizens, leaders react to city’s vote to remove flag

John Fitzhugh explores some of the emotions invoked by the Mississippi state flag.
Updated: Jun. 16, 2020 at 8:45 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The vote on Tuesday by the Gulfport City Council—to remove the state flag from city property and ask the state legislature to change it— is not a new concept.

The issue has roiled cities and counties across the state for years.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce asked the legislature to change the state flag in 2015. Their position hasn’t changed, and they supported Gulfport’s move Tuesday.

“It just doesn’t look good for our state, it’s not the right thing for our state, and we need to make that change,” said Adele Lyons, CEO of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce.

“We certainly support Gulfport removing the flag,” she said. “We think it goes hand-in-hand with changing the flag.”

The Gulfport council voted unanimously to remove the state flag on city property.

In the wake of the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death, momentum may finally be shifting.

A group of state interfaith leaders issued a call for the flag to be changed last week. The Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Gulfport said he signed a letter calling for the flag to change years ago.

“For me, it’s about having a flag that represents more of us and potentially at some point all of us,” said Dr. Jimmy Stewart, Senior Pastor First Baptist Church of Gulfport. “Under the current flag, I don’t think we can ever get there.”

Stewart said he voted in favor of the current flag in 2001, but he would change that vote today.

“There are members of our state who are offended by our current flag because of its history. There are others who are attached to it because of their history,” said Stewart. “It’s different.”

Gulfport resident Vonnie Holliman recently replaced the U.S. flag outside his house with a state flag. He said he wanted to fly the flag just because it was his right to.

“It’s not a hate thing with me, it’s our heritage,” he said.

Holliman said he wasn’t sure if he would fly a new flag— if the legislature voted for a new one— because he appreciates the aesthetics of the current one. He also said the problem is the groups and individuals who have used the Confederate Battle Flag to represent hate.

“It’s the people that have been misrepresenting that flag that’s the people that they need to get rid of,” he said.

He said he understands why people are offended by that symbol in the upper left corner of the flag.

“Now, if it’s offensive to people and if more than a few people tell me it offends them, I would take it down,” he said.

It is easy to find those who support the city’s move and are offended by the flag and all it represents.

“It’s a great move for me because I won’t feel intimidated when I see that flag,” said Gulfport resident Betty Ewing. “When I go into a courtroom, I won’t feel intimidated about that flag. Now when I go in the courtroom, I see myself being afraid because injustice [happened] in the courtroom and a lot of time it is based on that flag.”

Mississippi’s past is filled with inequities of justice for African Americans.

“So today is a historic day for us,” she said. “It would change the frame of mind in Harrison County.”

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