JACKSON, Miss. (NewsNation) — Some Mississippi residents are opposed to the Legislature’s decision to retire a Confederate-themed state flag.
Organizers of a group called ‘Let Mississippi Vote’ said Monday that they are starting an initiative to put the retired flag and three other flag designs on the statewide ballot.
“What the legislators did, in my opinion, was 100% wrong,” said the group’s leader, Dan Carr. “We should give the people of Mississippi the right to vote on this flag.”
Getting any initiative on the ballot requires signatures from more than 106,000 voters, evenly distributed among the five congressional districts Mississippi used 20 years ago. Most initiatives fail because organizers fall short in gathering signatures.
Petitions for this initiative could hit the streets in a few weeks, after required paperwork by the secretary of state and attorney general. The signature-gathering process could be complicated by social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Even if this initiative gets to the ballot, an election could be a year or two away. And, Mississippi might have a new flag before then.
A commission is already working on a flag design that, by legislative mandate, cannot include the Confederate battle emblem and must have the phrase, “In God We Trust.”
Under the law that retired the old flag, the lone design that commissioners recommend will go on the ballot this November. If voters accept the design, it will become the new state flag. If they reject it, the commission will come up with a new design that will go on a later ballot.
The banner that legislators retired in late June was the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate emblem. Mississippi had used the same Confederate-themed flag since 1894. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the flag lacked official status because when state laws were updated in 1906, sections dealing with the flag were not carried forward.
Legislators put the issue up for a 2001 statewide election. Voters in 2001 chose to keep the old flag, rejecting an alternate that would have replaced the Confederate canton with a blue square topped by stars representing Mississippi as the 20th state.
Carr, a Gulfport pastor and businessman, said Monday that legislators set a precedent by setting a flag election nearly 20 years ago. The four choices proposed by the initiative are the 1894 flag, a bicentennial flag featuring the state seal, a “hospitality flag” designed by Jackson artist Laurin Stennis and the new design that will be recommended by the flag commission.
The public submitted nearly 3,000 designs for a new flag. Commissioners on Friday narrowed that to nine designs, and they will choose five finalists Tuesday. By early September, they will agree on a single proposal to put on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Emily Wagster Pettus reporting for the Associated Press.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.