39-year-old Carlos Moore, an attorney from Mississippi, is suing Gov. Phil Bryant over the state’s controversial flag, which contains a Confederate battle emblem.
According to Moore, while he can deal with the flag’s consequences, he doesn’t want his daughter, who is five years old, to have to put up with them in the future.
“I don’t want the next generation to go through this,” he told CNN. “I can take it … but I’m concerned about her generation.”
Mississippi is the only state in America that still has a Confederate emblem in its state flag and also has a higher population of Blacks — 37.5 percent — than any other state.
According to the lawsuit, which Moore filed on Monday, the flag as it stands today has “a racial discriminatory purpose to subjugate African-Americans to second class status and promote the notion of white supremacy.”
Further, the lawsuit states, the flag “encourages or incites private citizens to commit acts of racial violence in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.”
This case comes just weeks after the state failed to enact into law House or Senate bills that proposed changes to the current flag. Some of the numerous suggestions included accepting submissions from colleges and universities for new flag ideas, reinstating the state’s previous Magnolia Tree flag and having two separate-but-equal flags. One bill, House Bill 1551, proposed changing the current flag to the Bonnie Blue Flag — an unofficial symbol of Confederacy. None of the bills had enough support, though, and died last month.
“We thought the legislature would go ahead and take the flag down,” Moore said. “But it seems our only option is to challenge it in court.”
Also last month, Gov. Bryant once again declared April Confederate Heritage Month. The proclamation, written on Gov. Bryant’s official letterhead, calls it “important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned from yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow …”
Clay Chandler, Gov. Bryant’s spokesman, said that all history, “no matter how unpleasant or complicated parts of it may be,” should be studied.
However, many Mississippians would rather forget that part of the state’s history and have made this known. But despite numerous attempts by Mississippians to have the flag changed, Gov. Bryant’s stance has remained unchanged. In the past he has cited a 2001 statewide poll that showed the majority of residents wanted to keep the flag the same.
“… I don’t believe the Mississippi Legislature will act to supersede the will of the people on the issue,” he said previously.
Chandler called the lawsuit “a frivolous attempt to use the federal court system to usurp the will of the people.”
“The governor hopes Attorney General Jim Hood will seek attorney’s fees to reimburse taxpayers the cost of defending against this needless drain on state resources,” Chandler said.
Hood has previously said that he believes the flag should be changed but that he will defend it in court either way because “that has no effect whatsoever on my duty to defend the state.”
Previous cases regarding the flag and other Confederate emblems have failed to win. However, the Confederate flag became the focal point of national attention last June following the murders of nine Black churchgoers in South Carolina at the hands of Dylann Roof, who admitted to authorities he had intended to start a “race war.” As a result, various retailers, including Walmart (one of DiversityInc’s Top 25 Noteworthy Companies), Sears, eBay and Amazon, stopped selling Confederate merchandise last summer. And in October, the University of Mississippi removed the state flag from the university grounds.
The tragedy in South Carolina, as well as other incidents of violence, may provide Moore’s case with the fuel it needs to win, he explained.
“In the past cases, the rulings noted that plaintiffs needed to show that the flag promoted racial violence,” Moore said. “We have incidents in Mississippi that show that clearly.”
According to the lawsuit, the South Carolina tragedy is a vital reason why the Mississippi flag must be changed:
“Time is of the essence for the removal of the current state flag from all public display on public lands and adoption of a non-discriminatory state flag because there was a recent mass killing of nine black people in South Carolina on June 17, 2015 (sic) by a young white supremacist who was a confederate battle flag sympathizer and militant who was motivated by the fact that the state of South Carolina sanctioned hate speech and encouraged racial violence by flying the confederate battle flag on its state property. Similar violent conduct could occur any day in Mississippi.”
And some incidents have already occurred in the state.
“We have specific incidents we’re going to point to in order to say that this flag is promoting racial violence,” said Moore. “And we believe that the results of our lawsuit could be different than those in the past.”
The lawsuit also cites an incident at a Mississippi Walmart in November, when a “confederate battle flag fanatic” bombed the store due to its decision to stop selling confederate merchandise. In addition, a statue of James Meredith, a civil rights leader, located at the University of Mississippi was found with a noose around its neck in 2014. These incidents only stand the chance of escalating if action is not taken, Moore believes.
“It is past time for this unconstitutional practice to end,” the lawsuit concludes.