Mississippi House Rep. Karl Oliver, who drew national headlines in 2017 for saying New Orleans lawmakers “should be lynched” for removing that city’s Confederate monuments, today announced that he supports changing Mississippi’s State Flag.
“Recent events surrounding our state’s banner are causing it to grow more divisive by the day and affecting many in our state, first and foremost our children and young people—our future. They are watching,” Oliver said in a written statement.
The Winona Republican’s embrace of a new flag without the Confederate emblem marks a stunning change from his prior remarks about the removal of monuments to the Confederacy.
“The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED!,” Oliver wrote in a May 2017 Facebook post that drew unsuccessful calls for his expulsion from some black lawmakers.
“Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our State.”
Today, though, Oliver cites the weight of history—and his desire to stand on the right side of it—as part of his motive for replacing the state flag with one that no longer pays homage to the state’s four-year stint as part of a Confederacy dedicated to preserving the institution of slavery.
‘Because of My Love for … My Fellow Mississippians’
“History will record the position I chose. History will record the position of every Mississippian,” Oliver said in today’s statement.
“Fully aware of the consequences, I’ve made my decision. One day, I will no longer be a legislator; however, I will forever be a father and grandfather. In years to come, when my grandchildren and their children are studying this time in history, they will be questions. When they ask me or their parents what my position was, I want them to know that it was because of my love for them and Mississippi, and Christ’s love for me, and for my fellow Mississippians, I based my decision on what I believed to be best for everyone.”
Pressure has mounted for a new flag in recent weeks, as the nation faces a reckoning over systemic racism that has included the removal of symbols and monuments to white supremacy across the country. Today, coaches from Mississippi’s universities joined together at the Mississippi Capitol and called on lawmakers to change the flag, as the legislative session winds down in its final week. College athletic associations including the SEC, NCAA, and C-USA have all threatened to bar state colleges and universities from hosting regional championships unless the flag changes.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention, which has influence among many conservative legislators, also joined calls for a new flag this week, too. In a statement, the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus reiterated its longstanding calls for a new flag.
“The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus maintains its position that the Mississippi Legislature vote to remove the current state flag and adopt a design that is inclusive. We can vote while we are assembled and meeting at the Capitol,” Democratic Sen. Angela Ford, the MLBC chair, said in a statement earlier this week. “We want one unifying flag that does not incorporate confederate symbols or connotations. Our constituents, student athletes and businesses deserve better.”
‘Now is the Time’
A number of current and former Republican leaders in the state have endorsed the idea of using the state seal for the new state flag, including Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who serves as the Senate president, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, and former Miss. Gov. Phil Bryant. That probably means they are leaning toward the Bicentennial flag, which the Mississippi Economic Council created in 2016.
When Mississippi adopted the current flag in 1894, the State was in the midst of a massively successful effort to roll back rights African Americans had gained during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. Lawmakers implemented a number of Jim Crow laws during the 1890 rewrite of the Mississippi State Constitution, with one state lawmaker at that year’s constitutional convention, J.H. McGehee, saying he would vote for laws restricting black rights “even if it does sacrifice some of my white children, or my white neighbors or their children.”
In his statement today, Rep. Oliver said his decision to support changing the flag is about bringing Mississippians together.
“I am choosing to attempt to unite our state and ask each of you to join me in supporting a flag that creates unity,” he said. “Now is the time.”