(AP) The Mississippi flag, which includes a Confederate battle emblem, was temporarily removed Thursday from most municipal buildings in one of the largest cities in the state.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree said he ordered the flag removed for an undetermined period to show respect for the nine black people shot to death last week at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The white man charged in the massacre had posed with the Confederate battle flag in photos posted online before the attack.
Some Mississippi leaders in recent days have called for the state to change its flag to remove a symbol that many people see as divisive. Others say they see no need to change a banner that the state has used since 1894 and that voters reaffirmed in a 2001 election.
DuPree said Charleston needs time to mourn, just as people in Hattiesburg did after two of its police officers were killed several weeks ago. He said other communities supported Hattiesburg, and he wants to extend the same courtesy.
“Today, we want to focus on the lives of the victims as they are being laid to rest instead of this confessed murderer who clothed his hatred for African-Americans with the Confederate flag,” DuPree said.
Hattiesburg City Hall has not flown the Mississippi flag for several years. City spokeswoman Chinika Hughes said it was temporarily removed from the fire department and other places. She said it remains up at the police department.
DuPree, a Democrat, made history in 2011 by becoming the first black major-party nominee for Mississippi governor. He lost to Republican Phil Bryant, who is now seeking a second term and has not said whether he favors changing the flag.