An unplanned vote to lower the state flag from county properties’ flag poles deadlocked along racial lines when District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard abstained and said he would address the issue at the next board meeting.
Monday’s motion came from District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams after Oktibbeha County NAACP Chairman Chris Taylor asked supervisors to deal with the issue and send a message to state lawmakers before the start of the legislative term.
The 2-2 vote followed racial lines, as it was supported by District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer and Williams, two of the board’s three African-American representatives, and opposed by District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery and District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller, its two white members.
“The state flag is something that separates us. And if there’s one thing that we need in Mississippi and the United States, it’s unity. What that state flag stands for is division. We might as well admit it — it stands for racism,” Williams said before introducing his motion. “It has served its purpose, but it’s good (for the flag) … to be placed in a museum. We all value the history behind it, because we have learned from our mistakes. I think both races can always learn from the mistakes that the flag has created.”
After the meeting, Howard said his call for more time was made to allow public discourse on the topic.
Williams made multiple calls last year to lower the flag, but Monday’s agenda did not list such action for public debate.
“I think it deserves an opportunity for input, regardless of what the vote is. Some people view it as racist, while some people don’t. It means lots of different things to lots of different people,” Howard said after the meeting. “To allow input would be the better way to go about this regardless of how the vote comes down.”
Like Howard, Miller also said she opposed the motion because the public did not have ample opportunity to discuss the issue. Montgomery, however, said the flag should remain in service because state officials have not changed the banner.
“The flag still flies at the state capitol. Whether I agree with or disagree with the design of that flag, we live in the state of Mississippi. It’s not up to me to make that decision (to lower the flag),” he said. “There are people that would like to see the American flag come down. When does it stop? Do I want to see that flag come down? No. Do I want to see a redesign of the Mississippi flag? That’s going to be up to the state legislative body. At this time, we fly the state flag.”
After abstaining from the tally, Howard took flak from Taylor, who said the supervisor was scared to act on the matter even though board members asked Taylor to hold off on asking the board to remove the divisive symbol until after the general election.
“You five board members have the power right now to send that signal (to Jackson), and I think you should,” he said. “They look at us like we’re divided. Oktibbeha County is afraid, but the city of Starkville wasn’t afraid.”
“I’m not afraid of making a tough decision,” Howard countered.
Taylor asked Trainer where the issue stood after the deadlock, and the board president replied, “You’re right where you were when you got here.”
“From now on, I’m not waiting on anything else, no matter who asks,” the NAACP chairman said. “Facts are facts. You see what the results were (of the November general election). You know why the decision wasn’t made (before November). Someone was afraid.”
Howard defeated Republican Dennis “Denny” Daniels by about 40 votes last year.
Starkville joined other municipalities and counties — including Columbus — across the state by lowering the state flag from its property in July.
Similar actions were taken by the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi. In September, Mississippi State University’s student government group called for the adoption of a new state flag.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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