Community forum planned Nov. 3 on several issues
By Shanderia K. Posey
Mississippi native and community activist Duvalier Malone is not backing down efforts to change and/or remove the state flag, which bears the Confederate emblem. On Oct. 13, Malone and several state and local leaders gathered on the state Capitol steps asking for an apology from Gov. Phil Bryant for all the decisions made at the Capitol that continue to cause racial division and negatively impact the state. Malone noted how earlier this month Bryant declared October Racial Reconciliation Month in Mississippi in an effort to break down barriers between races and encourage helpful dialogue to promote stronger relationships. But during February – Black History Month – Bryant proclaimed April as Confederate Heritage Month. By Malone’s assessment, the October declaration doesn’t mean much on the governor’s part.
“How long are we going to continue with the cliche of calling traditional months without action,” Malone said. “An apology comes with action.” Admittedly, Malone and supporters did not anticipate actually receiving an apology from Bryant; however, the request sheds light on the ongoing debate. Malone asked the audience to consider the lives of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers.
“It’s not good enough for us to put an Emmett Till Interpretive Center in the Mississippi Delta with us not creating action; action meaning remove the Confederate flag from the state of Mississippi immediately. That’s what an apology is,” Malone said. “It’s not enough for us to say we have a Medgar Evers Museum at his home but a true apology is us coming together here at the Capitol removing the Confederate flag from Mississippi.”
Speakers at the event included Rep. Kathy Sykes, Edelia “Jay” Carthan, Ph.D., Rob Hill, Valeria Sims-Griffin, Ignacio Zambrano and Maisie Brown. Brown, an activist and student at Jim Hill High School in Jackson, called for an apology from Bryant not only for the flag but also “for failing the students that he governs.” Brown talked about chipped walls, old books and outdated technology at her school due to lack of funding. “Along with eduction, the flag has become a hot topic, and he loves to run back and go to the ballot from 2001. Well, sorry to tell you, but a lot of things have changed since the year 2001,” Brown said. “This flag will be taken down.”
Those gathered also heard from Carthan, an assistant professor at Tougaloo College, who is a cousin of Till. Carthan recounted the story of Till’s visit to Mississippi in 1955 to visit relatives. Though Till’s mom had warned him about the racial climate of Mississippi, he reportedly in an effort to impress his friends said “Bye Baby” to Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, after paying for his candy at Bryant’s Grocery Store in Money, Miss. Some historians report Till whistled at her. Days later, Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, abducted Till from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night. Three days later Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River. He had been beaten, shot and wrapped in barbed wire that was attached to a cotton gin fan. “Most people don’t know this history, so I’m standing here asking for an apology on behalf of the Till family and the Carthan family,” said Carthan. Mamie Carthan Mobley was Till’s mom. The open-casket funeral she had for her son drew national attention. Till’s murder served as a catalyst to the Civil Rights Movement. Carthan connected Till’s murder to police brutality taking place today that’s particularly affecting African-American men. “You cannot conquer what you won’t confront. How are you going to apologize but you won’t admit to what you are apologizing for,” Carthan said. Malone and other speakers at the press conference were a part of the Take It Down America movement, which culminated in a rally in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. Mississippi is the last state with a flag that bears the emblem. Malone has spoken on how hate crimes link the Confederate symbol to the swastika, the emblem of Nazi Germany.
“It’s time for us to recognize that although the Confederate symbol and the Nazi symbol originate from different countries, they are equals in terms of hate, intolerance and bigotry,” he said. Malone expressed it would be a waste of taxpayer money to hold a special election regarding the flag, when the governor could simply remove or change the emblem or the Legislature could vote to remove it. Other legislators, including Sykes and House Speaker Philip Gunn, have expressed their desire to change/remove the current flag. The bills presented to change the flag died in committee, Sykes said. “I love Mississippi and I believe the lawmakers we have here want to see economic development come back to the state. They want to see the state unified, so let’s put it on the floor. Let’s get a vote,” Malone said. “Having a special session would be a lot cheaper than doing a ballot initiative,” said Sykes, explaining how every precinct in the state would not have to open. Sykes represents District 70, and the state Capitol is in her district.
“In the long run, we have to make decisions that would benefit our state and to hold on to this relic of slavery and succession … it’s time for us to move on,” she said. Sykes’ Bill 1548 was introduced last year to change the flag to a Stennis flag, which was designed by Jackson artist Laurin Stennis, the granddaughter of the late Sen. John C. Stennis. Sykes plans to reintroduce the bill next session. The flag debate, including businesses not coming to Mississippi, will also be a topic for discussion at a community forum titled “Do You Have a Seat at The Table” set for 6-8 p.m. Nov. 3, at Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center in Jackson. Duvalier Malone Enterprises is presenting the forum. After years of traveling throughout the state, Malone decided to go beyond the elite circles of politics but work harder at getting everyday people engaged in the change they want to see.
Others topics for the forum include education and mentorship for youth. The public is invited.
Shanderia K. Posey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.