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Rally calls for keeping Confederate emblem on state flag

by: EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press Updated:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi state flag would be akin to communists rewriting history, a former leader of a Southern heritage group said Tuesday during a keep-the-flag rally.

"This is not about what happened in the 1860s. This is not about what happened in the 1960s. What this is really about is what the leftist, progressive agenda wants this country to look like in 2060," said Chuck McMichael of Shreveport, Louisiana, a past national commander in chief for Sons of Confederate Veterans.

About 200 people participated in the rally on the south side of the Mississippi Capitol, near a massive monument to Confederate women. Many carried Mississippi flags, and some paired them on poles with yellow "Don't Tread On Me" banners. Speakers prompted whoops from the crowd by denouncing abortion, same-sex marriage and President Barack Obama's recent statements about guns.

The public display of Confederate symbols has come under increased scrutiny since June, when nine black worshippers were massacred at a church in South Carolina. Within weeks, lawmakers took down a Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.

The New Orleans City Council voted in December to remove Confederate monuments.

Mississippi has had the Confederate battle emblem on its flag since 1894, and it is the last state with a flag that still prominently features the symbol — a blue X with 13 white stars, over a red field.

In a 2001 election, Mississippi voters chose to keep the rebel emblem on the upper left corner of the flag.

Soon after the Charleston massacre, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said his Christian faith had prompted him to see the Mississippi flag as "a point of offense that needs to be removed." However, nothing happened. Legislators weren't working at the time and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said he would not call them into special session to consider a flag change.

The rally took place two weeks after legislators started their four-month session. No bills have been filed, but Gunn said he expects competing proposals from legislators who want to either change the flag or enshrine the current design in the state constitution.

Bryant, who won a second term in November, said he respects the 2001 vote, but he thinks if a redesign is to be considered, it should be done by another statewide vote rather than by the Legislature.

Two groups — one wanting to change the flag and one wanting to keep it — are gathering signatures to try to put the issue on the 2018 ballot.

About 20 people who want to change the flag stood quietly on the edge of the rally holding a banner with "1 Flag For All." Sharon Brown, sponsor of the change-the-flag initiative, said the current design hurts Mississippi.

"Our motto is 'The hospitality state,'" she said. "But, unfortunately, the flag does not represent that."

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .