OUR VIEW: Time right to replace Mississippi flag

Associated Press file photo

The future of the Mississippi state flag is being discussed at the Capitol in Jackson.

We hold great respect for the will of the voters, but there are moments when leaders must make courageous choices to do the right thing and make decisions that are in the best interest of the people they serve – even when they think a decision will be unpopular.

Mississippi’s legislators are at one of those moments as they consider whether to change the state’s flag.

While many have long recognized the hurt caused by divisive symbols, such as the Confederate battle emblem on Mississippi’s flag, the extent of that pain is being recognized in greater numbers and intensity.

Though many may feel nostalgic about the flag, the symbol is more universally recognized as representing hate, oppression and terror.

Rather than look to its past, it is time for Mississippi to look to its future and that means change. State legislators may never have had a more opportune time to make this choice.

Beyond the personal pain the Confederate emblem has caused, the price Mississippi pays for continuing to display a divisive symbol at public schools and buildings is being more greatly understood in Mississippi.

On Thursday, the president of the Southeastern Conference said the SEC might withhold its sports championships from the state if the flag isn’t changed.

University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Athletic Director Keith Carter said in a statement they supported the SEC’s ultimatum. Separately, Mississippi State President Mark Keenum stated he understood the SEC position and there were people at MSU in Starkville who wanted a change.

On Friday, the NCAA expanded its policy banning states with prominent Confederate symbols from hosting its championship events. Mississippi is the only state affected by the policy.

That’s untold millions of dollars Mississippi is leaving on the table.

The sports organizations join a growing chorus of academic, religious, political and economic leaders calling for change.

A survey of Meridian business and political leaders attending the February Mississippi Economic Council tour stop in Meridian unanimously acknowledged the state was perceived negatively and that image was hurting business. The majority of people in the room responding to another question on the survey said the state flag hurt economic development.

“Our position is longstanding – we need to change the flag for a variety of reasons,” MEC President and CEO Scott Waller said in February. “The economy is one of the many variety of reasons, but we feel like it hurts us from an image standpoint.”

Now is the time for change, but our leaders in Jackson are skittish and cite a 2001 referendum that resulted in 65 percent of Mississippi voters supporting the current flag.

A survey of six East Mississippi legislators recently by The Meridian Star resulted in four of the six saying voters should decide the future of the flag by statewide referendum. Gov. Tate Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant before him have long stated the same.

We disagree and believe legislators should vote for change in numbers to override a governor’s veto. We urge them to vote for change now — not for another referendum or a compromise of flying two different flags as was floated over the weekend.

Elected officials are chosen to lead and make right and courageous decisions for us – all of us.

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