5/11/2017 11:30:00 AM Removal of Mississippi flag in Biloxi sparks debate
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is getting both support and backlash over the mayor's decision to stop flying the state flag because it includes the Confederate battle emblem.
People packed the Biloxi City Council meeting Tuesday night to discuss the flag, and photos from local news outlets showed that several carried state flags on sticks or poles, while some others held signs with the slogan, "1 Flag for All."
Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich ordered the banner removed from display at city buildings in late April, saying he wants tourists to feel welcome. With white sand beaches, seafood restaurants, several casinos and a 2-year-old minor league baseball stadium, Biloxi attracts about 5.7 million visitors a year.
Biloxi is home to an Air Force base and is a diverse city, with a population that's about 68 percent white, 20 percent black and 4 percent Asian.
Republican Gilich won a special election in 2015, and decided upon taking office that only the U.S. flag should be flown on city property, city spokesman Vincent Creel said in April. However, the state flag was still flying at some buildings this spring.
Gilich is seeking another term and faces a black Democrat in the June 6 election. He was asked about the state flag during an April 22 forum sponsored by the NAACP, and he ordered it removed from display soon after that.
Mississippi is the last state with a flag that includes the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue tilted cross with 13 white stars. The state has used the same flag since 1894. Although voters chose to keep it in a 2001 election, it remains a topic of debate in a state with a nearly 38 percent black population.
The flag and other Confederate symbols have come under increased scrutiny since the June 2015 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The man convicted in the case, an avowed white supremacist, had previously posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos published online.
Mississippi law does not require local governments to fly the flag. Several cities and counties, and all eight public universities, have taken it off display.
Biloxi councilman Robert Deming III is proposing an ordinance that would require the flag to fly at city buildings, and the council could consider it later this month.
The council adopted a resolution Tuesday night asking the state lawmakers to consider changing the flag. Several bills to either remove the Confederate emblem from the flag or financially punish universities that refuse to fly it were filed in the state House this year, but none of them passed.