Reaction to Miss. flag vote mixed, hopes for unity in new flag

James Henry Burnett of Biloxi talks about his support for the Mississippi state flag that the...
James Henry Burnett of Biloxi talks about his support for the Mississippi state flag that the legislature voted to remove on Sunday.(John Fitzhugh)
Updated: Jun. 29, 2020 at 6:25 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Residents of South Mississippi have their opinions regarding the state flag being removed.

Talk to enough people and you’ll get both sides.

Some are looking toward the future, hoping for unity to be the outcome of Sunday’s historic vote.

Waiting for his lunch at Rosetti’s Diner in Biloxi, Vietnam Veteran Eddie Brooks of Biloxi said, “I think it was about time, the government is doing the right thing about it.”

Brooks said he remembered being confused during a trip to the courthouse as a child. A single pipe came out of the wall, but split to two water fountains, one marked “white” and the other marked “colored.”

“As a 9 or 10-year-old, I just couldn’t understand why one pipe had to go in a different direction for somebody different.”

Despite all the oppression he faced when he returned from Vietnam in 1968, he decided that he would “live where I want to live and do what I wanted to do without hurting anybody, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

A few blocks away, a Confederate battle flag flies in front of a house on Oak Street in Biloxi, as it has since Hurricane Katrina. The man who flies the flag wouldn’t talk on camera, but he did say he was against changing the Mississippi state flag.

Next door, James Henry Burnett didn’t hesitate to speak. “That flag ain’t been no bother to nobody, so leave it hanging there.”

At Pioneer Barber and Salon on Division Street, Ryan Gates was waiting for a customer and struck an understanding tone.

“I kind of understand both sides. Yes, it’s the South’s heritage, but at the same time, for so many other people, it has been a symbol of hate and oppression and pain.”

His fellow barber, Christopher Robinson, said he felt the economic pressure— put on the state by organizations like the SEC— gave the legislature no choice but to change the flag.

“Because money is what motivates everything.” He drew a comparison to the legislature allowing casino gaming in the state to help boost state revenues.

“It don’t make no difference what color you are. All our money is green.”

While the legislature voted to take the current flag with the Confederate battle emblem down, they did not pick a new flag. Instead, a design committee will meet and get public input on a new design. It is that flag will go on the ballot in November for a public vote.

“As long as we can come together and design a flag that stands for everybody in the state— Black, White, Latina, Asian. So if we can all come together and design a flag that we can agree upon and move forward, I’m all for it,” Gates said.

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