Newswire : Mississippi surrenders Confederate symbol from state flag

By: Emily Wagster Pettus, Associated Press

Mississippi students protest state flag

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi will retire the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem, more than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the design a generation after the South lost the Civil War.

A broad coalition of lawmakers — Black and white, Democrat and Republican — voted Sunday, June 28, 2020, for change as the state faced increasing pressure amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.

Mississippi has a 38% Black population, and critics have said for generations that it’s wrong to have a flag that prominently features an emblem many condemn as racist.

The Senate voted 37-14 to retire the flag, hours after the House voted 91-23.

Cheers rang out in the state Capitol after the Senate vote. Some spectators wept. Legislators embraced each other, many hugging colleagues who were on the opposing side of an issue that has long divided the tradition-bound state.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign the bill into law in the next few days.

Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez choked back tears as he told reporters that he has seen white colleagues develop more empathy about how the Confederate symbol is painful to him and other African Americans. “They began to understand and feel the same thing that I’ve been feeling for 61 years of my life,” Johnson said.

A commission will design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, and that would be sent to voters later.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag, saying the Confederate symbol is offensive. “How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day,” Gunn said.

Legislators put the Confederate emblem on the upper left corner of Mississippi flag in 1894, as white people were squelching political power that African Americans had gained after the Civil War.

In a 2001 statewide election, voters chose to keep the flag. An increasing number of cities and all Mississippi’s public universities have taken down the state flag in recent years. But until now, efforts to redesign the flag sputtered in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

That dynamic shifted as an extraordinary and diverse coalition of political, business, religious groups and sports leaders pushed for change.

At a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion in early June, thousands cheered as an organizer said the state needs to divorce itself from all Confederate symbols.

Religious groups said erasing the rebel emblem from the state flag is a moral imperative. Notable among them was the state’s largest church group, the 500,000-member Mississippi Baptist Convention, which called for change last week after not pushing for it before the 2001 election.

Business groups said the banner hinders economic development in one of the poorest states in the nation.

In a sports-crazy culture, the biggest blow might have happened when college sports leagues said Mississippi could lose postseason events if it continued flying the Confederate-themed flag. Nearly four dozen of Mississippi’s university athletic directors and coaches came to the Capitol to lobby for change.

Many people who wanted to keep the emblem on the Mississippi flag said they see it as a symbol of heritage. The battle emblem is a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have waved the rebel flag for decades.

The Mississippi Supreme Court found in 2000 that when the state updated its laws in 1906, portions dealing with the flag were not included. That meant the banner lacked official status. The Democratic governor in 2000, Ronnie Musgrove, appointed a commission to decide the flag’s future. It held hearings across the state that grew ugly as people shouted at each other about the flag. Legislators then opted not to set a flag design themselves, and put the issue on the 2001 statewide ballot.

Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, who is now 97, served on then-President Bill Clinton’s national advisory board on race in the 1990s and was chairman of the Mississippi flag commission in 2000. Winter said Sunday that removing the Confederate symbol from the banner is “long overdue.”

“The battle for a better Mississippi does not end with the removal of the flag, and we should work in concert to make other positive changes in the interest of all of our people,” said Winter, a Democrat who was governor from 1980 until 1984.

Democratic state Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville, who is African American, said the state deserves a flag to make all people proud. “Today is a history-making day in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons told colleagues. “Let’s vote today for the Mississippi of tomorrow.”

Newswire : America watching as top three Virginia officials are embroiled in controversy

Page from Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Richmond Free Press
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – In the suddenly topsy-turvy world of Virginia politics, one fact is certain: Ralph S. Northam is still Virginia’s governor. He also has no immediate plans to resign, despite the uproar and the torrent of calls for him to quit the office some believe he is no longer fit to hold.
The sudden reversal of fortune began when Big League Politics, a conservative, Republican-leaning news and opinion blog, posted a 35-year-old yearbook photo that appears under the governor’s name showing two people, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.
The blog indicated that it was tipped off to the forgotten photo published in the 1984 edition of the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook by a former classmate upset with Gov. Northam’s stance on abortion.
Struck by an avalanche of criticism, the governor initially issued an apology on Friday, Feb. 1.
“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment,” he stated.
He pledged to do everything he could to restore the public’s trust in him.
But at a Saturday, Feb. 2, news conference, Gov. Northam recanted the apology.
Instead, the 59-year-old genial pediatric neurosurgeon with a reedy voice urged people to trust his word that he was not one of the two people in the photo, a position that began gaining support this week as published reports began surfacing in which former classmates agreed that other students were in the photo.
Gov. Northam, who also was criticized for dressing up as a plantation owner at Halloween, said at the news conference that he had never seen the photo because he finished medical school and started a residency program with the Army Medical Corps in San Antonio, Texas, and did not purchase a copy.
The governor also said that while he blackened his cheeks with shoe polish later that year in dressing up like his favorite entertainer, Michael Jackson, to compete in and win a dance contest in San Antonio, he said he was certain the yearbook photo was not his and that he was not one of the two people pictured.
As the governor fought to clear his name, he gained unexpected relief from the controversy when Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax and Attorney General Mark R. Herring both came under their own clouds.
Late Sunday, Feb. 3, Lt. Gov. Fairfax, 39, suddenly became embroiled in an equally explosive controversy regarding a sexual encounter at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston with Dr. Vanessa Tyson, now a California university professor. Dr. Tyson now publicly claims Lt. Gov. Fairfax, forced her to perform oral sex after they went to his hotel room.
Fairfax, a single Columbia University law student at the time, was working on a political campaign.
By Tuesday, the lieutenant governor had displaced Gov. Northam in the headlines as he sought to defend himself. Lt. Gov. Fairfax insisted the encounter with Dr. Tyson was consensual after Big League Politics also spread the information based on an email the blog said was provided by a Richmond friend of Dr. Tyson, Adria Scharf, executive director of the Richmond Peace Education Center and wife of Dr. Thad Williamson, a University of Richmond professor who has been a top adviser to a potential gubernatorial rival of Lt. Gov. Fairfax, Mayor Levar M. Stoney. A second woman, Meredith Watson, has since accused Fairfax of sexual assault, intensifying the controversy surrounding him.
Then on Wednesday, Attorney General Herring, 57, who had urged the governor to resign in favor of Lt. Gov. Fairfax, issued an unexpected admission about his own blackface episode.
Herring said in 1980 when he was a 19-year-old college student, he and friends “dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup” and went to a party portraying “rappers they listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow.”
Herring, who immediately resigned as co-chair of the Democratic Attorney Generals Association, called his actions a product of “our ignorance and glib attitudes” and a lack of “appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others.”
He said in the years since, the memory has caused him “deep regret and shame,” though he added that the past conduct “is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since.”
The upheaval has come amid a fast-moving General Assembly session when Gov. Northam is a key player in shaping legislation and Lt. Gov. Fairfax presides over the state Senate.
Amid the new revelations, Gov. Northam was bolstered by Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox’s public statement Monday that the yearbook photo could not be considered an impeachable offense and the fact that the governor’s aides and members of his cabinet have stuck with him rather than resigning. He is soldiering on.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, for example, Gov. Northam quietly signed legislation providing a $750 million package of incentives for Amazon, which plans to open part of its East Coast headquarters in Northern Virginia.
For those who denounced the governor in the wake of the photo — particularly a wide swatch of elected Democrats near and far — it was simpler when they could take an unforgiving stance solely involving Gov. Northam.
Take the 21-member Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which has urged the governor to resign and end the turmoil.
“We amplify our call for the governor to resign,” the Caucus stated Saturday after listening to Gov. Northam’s press conference. “He has irrevocably lost the faith and trust of the people. Changing his story now casts further doubt on his ability to gain that trust.”
But the Caucus is among many looking for a fallback position with the new revelations involving the two other top Democratic leaders, notably Lt. Gov. Fairfax, who is first in line to succeed to the office if Gov. Northam resigns.
The Caucus, led by Henrico Delegate Lamont Bagby, did not comment Wednesday on how their members will deal with a governor they have labeled a pariah, but whom they might have to work with. Most of the Richmond legislative delegation also didn’t comment. The only response has come from Delegate Betsy B. Carr, D-69th, who responded on her plan of action with Gov. Northam remaining in office: “As I have always done, I will support and advocate for legislation that helps my constituents and the Commonwealth. I work each and every day to improve the lives of Virginians, and I will continue to do that.”

Newswire: Mississippi campaign heats up after ‘Lynching’ Remark’

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent@StacyBrownMedia

 Mike Espy

It’s a campaign that flew quietly under the radar – though the outcome could not only make history but change the dynamics in the United States Senate. Down in the Delta – where the public lynching of African Americans was the rule and not the exception and the Ku Klux Klan was usually law enforcement, judge, jury and executioner – Mike Espy, a Black man, has forced a runoff against Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. As stunning as Espy’s rise in one of the classic “Good Ole Boys” states, Hyde-Smith, perhaps in a fit of desperation or a time lapse, helped to shine the spotlight on the race that had taken a back seat to the historic runs for governor in two other southern states, Florida and Georgia. “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith said as she was surrounded by cattle rancher Colin Hutchinson and other supporters at a gathering in Tupelo. Hyde-Smith later tried to walk back the inflammatory comment, saying “In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.” If the comment was an exaggerated expression of regard, many in the one-time civil rights hotbed — and many more from across the nation — didn’t see it that way. It not only ignited interest in the under-the-radar Senate race, it galvanized Espy’s supporters. “Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s shameful remarks prove once again how [President Donald] Trump has created a social and political climate that normalizes hateful and racist rhetoric. We’ve seen this in Florida from Ron DeSantis and others during this election season and denounce it,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging,’ in a state known for its violent and terroristic history toward African Americans is sick. To envision this brutal and degenerate type of frame during a time when Black people, Jewish People and immigrants are still being targeted for violence by White nationalists and racists is hateful and hurtful,” Johnson said. According to the NAACP, Mississippi had 581 lynchings between 1882 and 1968, more than any other state. The state’s population has the highest percentage of African-Americans of any state, 37 percent according to the last census. “Any politician seeking to serve as the national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better. Her choice of words serves as an indictment of not only her lack of judgement, but her lack of empathy, and most of all lack of character,” Johnson said. Senator Hyde-Smith’s remark that she would “be on the front row” of a “public hanging” is repulsive and her flippant disregard for our state’s deep history of inhumanity tied to lynching is incensing,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “What is worse is her tone-deaf justification for the comment,” said Lumumba, who’s African-American. The ACLU of Mississippi released a statement calling Hyde-Smith’s comments “Despicable and abhorrent.” “We expect and demand that Mississippi leaders represent and remain committed to inclusion and diversity. Sitting senators should not be referencing public hangings unless they are condemning them,” The ACLU’s statement said. Espy himself weighed in. “Cindy Hyde-Smith’s comments are reprehensible. They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country,” Espy said. “We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.” The race for the Senate out of Mississippi has grown in its importance since election day. With the Democrats taking control of the House, the party has continued to narrow the majority in the Senate. After a stunning victory in Arizona by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, and Rick Scott’s win in Florida after a recount, Republicans hold a narrow majority of 52 to 47, with the Mississippi election to determine the final result. Espy once served as agriculture secretary under Democratic President Bill Clinton and, in 1986, he became the first African-American from Mississippi elected to Congress since Reconstruction. Born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Espy received a B.A. from Howard University in 1975 and then attended law school at the University of Santa Clara where he received his J.D. degree in 1978. Espy returned to Mississippi after law school and worked as an attorney for Central Mississippi Legal Services from 1978 to 1980, according to blackpast.org. Between 1980 and 1984 Espy served as assistant secretary of the Public Lands Division for the State of Mississippi and then took the post of assistant State Attorney General for Consumer Protection, a position he held until 1985. The following year Mike Espy won the 2nd Congressional District seat which included much of the Mississippi Delta, becoming the only black Congressman to represent a predominately rural district. Now, Espy is trying to unseat Hyde-Smith, whose comments have those outside of Mississippi rallying for him as the runoff approaches on Nov. 27. “North Mississippi and Memphis are connected at the hip,” said Corey Strong, the Shelby County Democratic Party Chair in Memphis.“We are looking at potentially having a day of action for members of Shelby County and a concerted effort to go down and support Mike Espy in that race,” Strong said.

NAACP president Brooks, 10 more activists, arrested again in sit-in outside Sessions’ office in Mobile

By: Melanie Eversley, USA Today

Cornell Brooks and Jeff Sessions

 

NAACP president and CEO Cornell Williams Brooks and 10 other activists spent about three hours in jail Monday after staging a repeat sit-in outside of the Mobile, Ala., office of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Republican who is President Trump’s pick for attorney general.

The group, charged with criminal trespass, is due back in court in Mobile on March 6, Brooks told USA TODAY. Monday’s protest came about four weeks after Brooks and other NAACP officials staged a similar sit-in at Sessions’ office in an attempt to compel the senator to remove himself from the attorney general nomination process. The civil rights organization opposes the conservative Republican for his opposition to the Voting Rights Act and for other stances that the NAACP believes work against its human rights mission.

“I think it’s clear that this administration is picking a fight with the American citizenry and the citizenry is making it clear that we’re not backing down; we’re not relenting,” Brooks said.

Brooks and five other NAACP officials were to appear in court in Mobile on misdemeanor criminal trespass charges for the Jan. 3 sit-in outside of Sessions’ office. But upon learning that the prosecutor did not want to proceed, they went back to Sessions’ office to protest again. Staffers closed the office before they arrived, Brooks said..

The group wanted to head back to Sessions’ office as a matter of taking responsibility for their actions, the NAACP president said. “In the same way that the Senate has a responsibility (to carry out the confirmation process) … we have a responsibility to make our voices heard through civil disobedience,” he said. “We’ve already made phone calls; we’re writing letters. That which is left to us is breaking the law and going to jail.”

Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores acknowledged that the charges were dropped on Sunday. The building manager attempted to block the group on Monday from entering but they were able to enter the building anyway, sitting down in front of the entrance to Sessions’ office.

About one hour into the sit-in , Mobile police arrested Brooks and 10 others, packed the NAACP officials and local protesters into a police van and took them to the police station for booking, said Quincy Bates, an NAACP spokesman.

Sessions’ Mobile office was closed Monday, Isgur Flores said. At about 4:30 p.m. ET, the group had just been booked and was being taken to the Mobile city jail, police department spokeswoman Charlette Solis said. They were released about three hours later, Brooks said.

Isgur Flores responded via e-mail, saying, “We look forward to Senator Sessions nomination being voted out of committee tomorrow and receiving bipartisan support on the floor later this week.” In the past, Isgur Flores has pointed out that Sessions has endorsements and support from black state officials in Alabama.

Sessions has made statements that hint he might rollback advances the Obama administration has made against alleged police misconduct, that he believes the Ku Klux Klan is “OK,” and that he supports broad immigration reform, according to civil rights advocates.

 

Donald Trump to Black voters: ‘What do you have to lose?’

By: BBC News

         Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made a direct appeal to African-American voters, saying “What do you have to lose?”

Mr. Trump told a nearly all-white audience in Michigan that Black voters “are living in poverty” and their “schools are no good”.

He promised to “produce” for African-Americans where Democrats had failed. “If you keep voting for the same people, you will keep getting exactly the same result,” he said.

He said his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, “would rather provide a job to a refugee” than to unemployed Black youths, “who have become refugees in their own country”.

Mrs. Clinton called Mr. Trump’s remarks “so ignorant it’s staggering”.

Donald Trump also predicted he would receive 95% of the African-American vote if he went to on to run for a second term in 2020. President Barack Obama, historically the most popular president among African-Americans in US history, received 93% of the black vote in 2012.

Mr. Trump has suffered from dismal support among African-Americans. Current polls show about 2% of black voters say they will vote for the New York real estate developer.

The Trump campaign relationship with the black voters thus far can be described as rocky at best. The billionaire businessman has seen strong support among white supremacist groups. Mr. Trump came under heavy criticism after he took days to distance himself from a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan who endorsed him.

 

On several occasions, African-American protesters have been assaulted by Trump supporters at rallies. A New York Times investigation found supporters frequently use racist language at rallies.

The Friday speech was the third time this week that Donald Trump sought to appeal to African-American voters. Some analysts say Mr Trump, trailing badly in national polls for weeks, desperately needs to broaden his appeal beyond his base of white working-class voters.

 

 

Donald Trump refuses to disavow support from David Duke, ex head of Ku Klux Klan

By: Adam Rosenberg, Mashable

“I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists,” an apparently confused Trump told Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union.
“I don’t know… did he endorse me? Or what’s going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”Tapper tried three times to get comment from Trump on Duke’s recent support of his presidential bid, and was stonewalled each time. The would-be Republican nominee wants to “look at the group” before passing judgment.
“You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about,” Trump said. “If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.”
Tapper fired back, expressing disbelief that Trump would be unfamiliar with such a public figure or the hate group he once represented. “I’m just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here, but—”
Trump interjected before he could finish: “Honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”
Tapper’s line of questioning came in response to Duke’s comments on Feb. 25 that a vote against Trump is “treason to your heritage.”
“I’m not saying I endorse everything about Trump,” Duke said on Thursday. “In fact, I haven’t formally endorsed him. But I do support his candidacy, and I support voting for him as a strategic action. I hope he does everything we hope he will do.”
Trump’s refusal to distance himself from Duke during his chat with Tapper is odd, given that he did so already during a Friday news conference in Texas (via Buzzfeed). “I didn’t even know he endorsed me,” Trump said at the time. “David Duke endorsed me? I disavow, okay?”
Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio had some choice words to share on Trump’s CNN appearance, and his unwillingness to distance himself from Duke.
“Not only is that wrong, it makes him unelectable,” Rubio said Sunday at a capacity crowd in Purcellville, Virginia. “How are we going to grow our party when we have a nominee who wont repudiate the Ku Klux Klan?”
Rubio added that Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know who Duke is.
In a subsequent statement from Trump’s campaign office, Trump asserted that his earpiece was working properly during the CNN interview with Jake Tapper.