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Several Southern states boast flags that incorporate some Confederate symbolism — but only one state actually includes the Confederate battle standard in its official state flag: Mississippi. And the Republican speaker of the state House wants it gone.
"We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday in a statement. "As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."
The Mississippi chapter of the NAACP applauded Gunn's call, saying he had "shown tremendous courage and we hope our state's other political leaders will follow him. If they do, history will applaud their courage."
A decades-long battle over official displays of the Confederate battle flag may have reached a tipping point with the massacre of nine African-Americans last week at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and the state's two U.S. senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott — all of them Republicans — called for the flag to be removed from its memorial location at the state Capitol on Monday.
As recently as 2013, Haley maintained that South Carolinians had made peace with the flag, saying through a spokesman: "Outside groups are free to voice their concerns and problems with it, but revisiting this issue is not part of the governor's agenda."
Across the country, sentiment appears to be turning against the flag and other Confederate symbols:
- The activist group Better Georgia has launched a petition drive to ask Georgia lawmakers to remove the battle flag from vanity license plates. "Any time you wave a Confederate battle flag, the raw stench of racism follows. And it hurts," executive director Bryan Long told NBC station WXIA of Atlanta.
- More than 1,500 Texans have signed a petition to remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the University of Texas campus. "U.S. soldiers helped Iraqis take down the statue of Saddam Hussein," Joe Deshotel, an organizer of the petition, told NBC station KXAN of Austin. "Nobody thought for a second that his regime would be forgotten and the scars that he put on that country would be forgotten. But it was important symbolism for liberation."
- And Monday, Bob Corker of Tennessee, a conservative leader among Senate Republicans, told MSNBC-TV that if he could, he would vote to remove the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Capitol. "I was born in South Carolina. I lived in South Carolina the first 11 years of my life," Corker said. "I love South Carolina, but I think in light of what's happened, there's no question from my perspective over what ought to happen."