The Bay St. Louis City Council on Tuesday voted 5-2 to remove the Mississippi state flag from display in front of city hall.
“I think it was a great move for the city…,” Ward Three Councilman Jeffery Reed said Wednesday. “I’m just very proud of the council for taking that step, especially with all the sensitive issues going on today. It’s more than just about the flag — we’re not trying to make America great. America is already great. We just have to do some things to show the greatness of who we are and what we are.”
The Gulfport City Council voted to remove the flag from city hall earlier on Tuesday and voted further to remove the it from all city-owned properties and to ask the state legislature to change the flag.
The state flag has been controversial for years because it includes a depiction of the Confederate battle flag. Nearly two-thirds of Mississippians who went to the polls voted to keep the current flag in 2001, but a recent study shows public opinion has changed somewhat. According to a statewide poll conducted by Chism Strategies for Advocacy & Elections, voters are now “statistically tied on whether to keep or replace the state’s flag that contains the Confederate battle emblem.”
Reed made the motion Tuesday to remove the flag after nearly an hour of discussion on various other racial issues that have come up in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd.
Reed told his fellow councilmen earlier in the meeting that on Saturday, he had gone to the crawfish boil for first-responders that the Hancock County NAACP and local law enforcement officials worked together to host at Martin Luther King Park in the Bay.
“We had more whites out there working at MLK Park (than African-Americans),” Reed said, “and I’m talking about on their knees, pulling the weeds out of the flower beds, and there power washing and other things. … I don’t think it’s a moment, I think it’s a movement. I think this is what Bay St. Louis is all about. Don’t get me wrong — racism is everywhere. Some of my best Caucasian friends are racist, but racism has two forms: You have malignant racism and you have benign racism.
“Malignant racism will kill you. Benign will not kill you, but it won’t help you, either. Until we make some progress in these particular areas, that we stand out and stand up against this thing, I think we genuinely — I believe this is where it starts.
“This board here, we’re considered to be the fathers of this city, and I believe this is where leadership starts. … We’ve got to take the lead here in this city and put some things in place.”
Reed, Ward One Councilman Doug Seal, Ward Two Councilman Gene Hoffman, Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Zimmerman and Councilman-at-Large Gary Knoblock all voted in favor of taking down the flag. Ward 6 Councilman Josh DeSalvo and Ward 4 Councilman Larry Smith voted against.
DeSalvo explained his vote, saying that some people may not like it, but “it is the state flag. It may not be the greatest, it may not be what we want, but … it’s still our state flag. If people want to revamp it,” then the state should change it.
“I agree with Councilman DeSalvo,” Smith said. “Our state flag has been voted on and more than 64 percent wanted to keep it.”
Reed said that at its next meeting, the council will examine whether to take down the state flag at all of its properties.