Activists in Mississippi ― the only U.S. state to still incorporate the so-called Confederate battle emblem into its state flag ― burned the controversial banner in front of the governor’s mansion on Monday.
“This flag needs to burn,” said organizer Danyelle Holmes, of Jackson, according to The Associated Press. “We’re burning the hate out of their hearts. We’re burning the hate out of our state.”
Approximately 30 demonstrators burned the Confederate battle flag and the Mississippi state flag to chants of “No hate in our state,” the Clarion-Ledger reported.
The protest was held in support of the Poor People’s Campaign, a national call for “moral revival,” its organizers said.
“People are hurting in Mississippi and that’s why they burned replicas of the state and Confederate flags,” the organization said in a statement to HuffPost. “We’re building a fusions movement across the state and around the country to confront systemic racism and lift people out of poverty.”
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant ― who, since taking office in 2012, has signed a state proclamation each year declaring April “Confederate Heritage Month” ― said the demonstration was unnecessary.
“This is an unfortunate instance of a group exercising their rights in a completely disrespectful and unproductive manner,” Bryant said in a statement to the Clarion-Ledger. “There are better ways to bring attention to one’s opinions than burning the state of Mississippi flag on a public street corner.”
Bryant’s comments come roughly a week after he received an award from the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Oxford Eagle previously reported the governor is a dues-paying member of the organization.
“It’s an honor he would be part of our group, and we were happy to honor him,” Jeff Barnes, the group’s leader, told Mississippi Today.
Bryant told the AP it’s up to voters to change the state flag, which has flown in the state for more than a century.
Mississippians had a chance to change the flag during a 2001 statewide election, but voters chose to keep it. However, that was before renewed calls to remove symbols of the Confederacy across the country.
There’s been a wave of opposition to the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments since white nationalist Dylann Roof killed nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015. Prior to the massacre, Roof appeared in photos holding the Confederate flag and wearing symbols associated with white supremacy.
Confederate symbols received added scrutiny in August 2017, when a man allegedly linked to white supremacist groups rammed his car into a crowd of people protesting a white supremacist rally to defend a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Virginia. He killed a woman and injured 19 other people.
Proponents of Confederate symbols claim they’re emblems of heritage and regional pride. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, says they’re synonymous with oppression and segregation.
“Confederate symbols don’t belong anywhere in connection with public land and certainly don’t belong as a centerpiece of a state flag,” David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the SPLC, told HuffPost.
He added, “When a state tells its citizens it should honor those who fought to enslave a large portion of the state’s citizenry, one has to step back and think what is the message that this state is sending to its citizens and can it be trusted to provide equality and justice to its residents.”