NAACP Threatens Economic Punishment for Miss. Flag Vote

The NAACP raised the threat of an economic boycott Wednesday to drag Mississippi "kicking and screaming into the 21st century" after voters overwhelmingly decided to keep their 107-year-old state flag with the Confederate emblem.

NAACP leaders said they will decide next month whether to lead a boycott, a tactic used by the organization against South Carolina, where a Confederate flag flew for decades over the Statehouse dome until it was taken down last year.

"That flag has never been my flag, nor will it ever be my flag nor the flag of black people in the state of Mississippi who really understand the reason behind the Confederate flag and all of its history," state NAACP President Eugene Bryant said.

By nearly 2-to-1 Tuesday, Mississippi voters decided to keep their 1894 flag, rejecting a new design that would have replaced the Confederate emblem with a cluster of 20 stars signifying Mississippi's admission as the 20th state.

No other state prominently displays the Confederate emblem on its flag.

"The voice of the people has been heard. The people of Mississippi do not want another flag. Mississippians are proud of their families, this state and its rich history," said William Earl Faggert, a leader of the state Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Mississippi NAACP official Deborah Denard said the vote means the state will have to be "dragged along kicking and screaming into the 21st century."

"Mississippi is kind of acting like children in that regard," Denard said. "They know that the Confederate banner has to go eventually, but they have to cling to antiquated ideas about what constitutes honor and dignity."

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove supported the new flag, saying the racially divisive Confederate symbol could hurt business. After the vote, he said: "It's important that we accept the majority vote and move forward with the business of bringing new jobs and better opportunities to all Mississippians."

Even though Mississippi lacks the drawing power of a major city like Atlanta, tourism-related businesses employ 94,000 people and pumped $6 billion into the state economy last year. Gambling at 30 state-regulated casinos accounted for $2.62 billion of that.

A coalition of business leaders, academics and civil rights groups had pushed for a new flag, saying the Confederate X hurts Mississippi's image.

"We thought it was the right thing to do," said Andy Bourland, director of the Mississippi Gaming Association.

University of Georgia historian James Cobb -- whose 1992 book "The Most Southern Place on Earth, explored social divides in the Mississippi Delta -- said Mississippi's hold on the Rebel flag could put it at a disadvantage in economic development.

"Mississippi will be the last Confederate state -- that will be the rallying cry for some," Cobb said.

Faggert, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, condemned the possibility of boycotts.

"Our state had withstood yet another unbelievable assault on its culture by a few of its own citizens and other outside influence that cowered toward political correctness carried to the extreme," he said.

Kirk Fordice, who served two terms in the 1990s as Mississippi's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, said the world should accept the flag vote.

"What people have to understand is that Mississippians resent the heck out of the constant drumming on the part of the media and others, day after day, that something's wrong with you if you support the old flag," Fordice said. "You have to change hearts, not the flag, if you want racial reconciliation."

The state has 2.8 million people, 61 percent of them white and 36 percent black. The vote was 65 percent to 35 percent in favor of the old flag, though in a few majority-black counties, the vote was surprisingly close.