The Mississippi state flag lost another home Tuesday when Oktibbeha County supervisors voted to only fly the U.S. banner above county-owned facilities.
Supervisors approved District 3 representative Marvell Howard’s motion 3-1 after two residents spoke in favor of removing the flag and two others opposed the action.
The importance of Howard’s swing vote — he abstained in a 2-2 tie on the matter earlier this month — became moot as District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery was absent from the meeting.
With the board’s action, a majority of Oktibbeha County and Starkville leaders now provide a unified front in opposition to the flag’s Confederate symbol, which many supervisors, aldermen and residents say discourage unity in a county that voted in 2001 to support a redesign of the state’s banner.
Residents opposed to Tuesday’s action urged supervisors to respect what should be a matter decided by either the legislature or statewide referendum.
Since this month’s previous vote, Howard said public feedback “has driven home the fact that we are not here to vote on just a piece of cloth that hangs from a pole, but instead we are voting on a symbol that kindles deep feeling and emotions from people on both sides of the issue.”
“I am convinced there are those who support this flag for reasons that have nothing to do with the dark history that’s attached to it. I am also aware that there are others that still identify with and hold onto the belief that this flag originally represented,” he said. “It is important to always know and to acknowledge our history, but to continue to display that history, I feel has become a distraction and a hindrance. As long as the flag flies at our capitol, universities, courthouses and our city halls, we will have a harder task of reaching our full potential, both socially and economically.”
As with the city’s action last year, Tuesday’s vote followed racial lines. Howard’s motion was carried by fellow African-American supervisors Orlando Trainer and Joe Williams.
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller opposed Tuesday, while Montgomery also voted against the act earlier this month.
Miller said she voted against the flag resolution because “it is not within the jurisdiction of the board of supervisors to determine what is or is not our state flag.”
“I believe the state flag should be for all Mississippians,” she said. “My ‘no’ vote on the issue of removing the state flag is based on my belief that our current flag was adopted by referendum and is the flag of the state for the moment.”
Williams, who previously led a charge to take down the state flag, also cited 2001’s statewide referendum.
A majority of Oktibbeha County voters, both black and white, showed they wanted change in that election, he said, and flying the flag creates discomfort for residents.
“We sent a true signal to our legislators that are getting ready to vote … to show Oktibbeha County is together, not divided. It’s great for the county, city and the state,” said Oktibbeha County NAACP President Chris Taylor.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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