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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Black groups are already talking about an economic boycott"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Mississippi keeps Confederate flag
Supporters of the Civil War emblem
Supporters of the state flag see it as a mark of pride
Mississippians have voted overwhelmingly to keep a controversial Confederate emblem on the state flag - even though many black people see it as a symbol of racism and slavery.

With all precincts reporting, 65% voted to retain the old flag while 35% voted to replace it.


We will now have the sole distinction of having a Confederate battle symbol on a flag that can only further divide a diverse population

Mississippi congressman Bennie Thompson

Mississippi is the last US state to display prominently the Confederate emblem on its flag.

Supporters see it as a mark of southern pride. The red-and-blue banner was the battle flag of the southern states during the US Civil War, when they fought unsuccessfully for the right to keep slaves.

Boycott

The BBC's Stephen Sackur in Mississippi says some black groups are already talking about an economic boycott.

And some businesses may think twice about investing in a state which still identifies closely with its rebel past, he says.

The state Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi
The current flag was adopted in 1894

The Confederate symbol has been adopted by some extreme right-wing and racist groups as a symbol of resistance to federal government.

Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove said the state should accept the results.

"We must put aside our differences as we continue to create a state that provides a good quality of life for our people," he said.

Defiance

Mississippi's only black congressman, Democrat Bennie Thompson, has refused to fly the flag in his Washington office.

"We will now have the sole distinction of having a Confederate battle symbol on a flag that can only further divide a diverse population," he said.


The 1894 flag represents heritage, honour, sacrifice, duty and history

Earl Faggert, Sons of Confederate Veterans

His concerns were echoed by a black Mississippi legislator, Erik Fleming, who said: "We don't want to come across as the last stand of Dixie".

Under pressure from civil rights organisations, a number of southern states have removed or downplayed the Confederate cross in recent years. But Mississippi was the first state to allow its voters to decide on the issue in a referendum.

The vote was so overwhelming that any fresh referendum on the 1894 flag is considered unlikely.

But advocates of replacing the flag say they will continue their campaign.

"We are going to get back out diligently with the governor and legislators and try to put this issue back on the ballot," said Wayne McDaniels, a representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Tie to heritage

Backers of the current flag see it as a tie to Mississippi's heritage.

"The 1894 flag represents heritage, honour, sacrifice, duty and history," said Earl Faggert, heritage spokesman for the Mississippi division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

"It represents the fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers of all Mississippians who fought under that banner," he added.

Poor state

Voters had the option of replacing the current flag with a new flag showing concentric circles of 20 stars, representing the fact that Mississippi was the 20th state to join the US.

Once a bastion of racial violence, Mississippi has for generations been one of the poorest states in the US.

The state is about two-thirds white and one-third black.

The current flag was adopted in 1894, almost 30 years after the defeat of the Confederacy.

In May, the State Supreme Court ruled that the flag had no legal status under the state's current constitution, which dates from 1906.

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | Americas
Georgia flies new 'non-racist' flag
01 Jul 00 | Americas
Confederate flag comes down
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