When "Quantico" actress Aunjanue Ellis walked the red carpet at the Gracie Awards on Tuesday evening, her dress made a statement — literally.
Emblazoned on the television star’s gown were the words “President Obama Take It Down,” as part of her continued efforts to bring down the Confederate Battle emblem featured in the Mississippi state flag.
Ellis, who won a Gracie Award for her role in the BET’s miniseries “The Book of Negroes,” shared a preview of her dress on Twitter, writing “Headed to #GracieAwards in my #TakeitDownAmerica gown. #MSFlag Gotta Go. #ConfederacyisHate.”
Mississippi is the only state with a flag that still explicitly incorporates the Confederate battle symbol. In 2001, state citizens voted against a referendum that would have replaced the Confederate battle flag with a new design that didn’t include Confederate symbolism.
Ellis told NBCBLK she believes the situation merits a national response, and she feels it is her responsibility to use her voice.
“Me wearing a dress is a very small thing to do, but it is a way to start a conversation,” Ellis told NBCBLK.
For Ellis, who grew up in Mississippi and still lives there today, the fight is personal.
“[Mississippi] is my bloodline,” she said. “This is not some cause I’m picking up.”
Ellis, who will star in Nate Parker's "The Birth of a Nation," is no stranger to using the red carpet as a platform. Back in February, Ellis attended the NAACP Image Awards wearing a white dress with the phrase "Take It Down Mississippi.”
A few months ago in March, Ellis penned an opinion piece in TIME entitled, “If Mississippi Won’t Take Down the Confederate Flag, Obama Should.”
“In the same way that the United States led the process of denazification in Germany after World War II, it is time now that Obama sends a bill to Congress outlawing the flag of the KKK and the Confederacy from being flown on all federal property,” she wrote.
In the wake of the June 2015 massacre of nine African Americans in a South Carolina church, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill that removed the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol.
At the time, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called for similar action, saying in a statement that as a Christian, he believed the flag had become “a point of offense that needs to be removed.” Just over six months later, the Associated Press reported Gunn took a step back from his opinion, maintaining instead that the decision should be left up to voters. In the same month, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a proclamation which declared April as "Confederate Heritage Month."
In President Barack Obama’s eulogy honoring Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine killed by Dylann Roof in South Carolina, he said removing the flag would not be an “act of political correctness” nor “an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers.” Rather, he said it would serve as an acknowledgement that the cause those soldiers were fighting for was wrong.
“For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation,” Obama said.
Ellis agreed with the president's remarks, but she said it’s time to move beyond words.
“Young men, like Dylann Roof, have used that flag as a license to kill and maim and destroy the lives of American citizens,” Ellis said.
On June 14, recognized nationally as “Flag Day,” Ellis will join with Mississippi attorney Carlos Moore, who filed a lawsuit against the state and Gov. Phil Bryant over the flag, and other celebrities, lawmakers, and civil leaders for a “Take It Down” rally in Washington, D.C.
The actress said it’s upsetting to see how kids growing up in Mississippi are affected by the message the flag carries.
“What are we telling young men and women their worth and their value is as human beings when we fly that flag and they have to walk under it just to get an education?”