Walmart, the largest retailer in the U.S., is the latest to join the debate over the Mississippi state flag after quietly (and temporarily) removing it from the 78 stores it operates in the state.
Walmart spokesperson Anne Hatfield said the retailer made the change “a couple of weeks ago.”
“We know the design of the Mississippi state flag is being discussed by various stakeholders,” Hatfield said in a statement. “While the issue continues to be discussed, we’ve made the decision to remove the Mississippi state flag from display in its current form from our stores.”
The discussion she is referring to, of course, is whether Mississippi should change the design of its state flag, which includes the Confederate flag.
Hatfield did not respond to questions about when Walmart will reinstate the flag and whether it has had discussions with state government officials, which have power to enact change.
“We believe it’s the right thing to do and is consistent with Walmart’s position to not sell merchandise with the Confederate flag from stores and online sites, as part of our commitment to provide a welcoming and inclusive experience for all of our customers in the communities we serve,” Hatfield’s statement continued.
Walmart indeed made a policy decision to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise after the 2015 shooting in Charleston, S.C. (More recently, it made a policy change to no longer lock up Black beauty products.)
The move follows increased scrutiny on hate symbols like the Confederate flag. Earlier this month, auto racing league Nascar, for example, banned Confederate flags from all future events.
And now Mississippi, the last state to include the Confederate flag in its state emblem, is facing increased pressure.
On June 19, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) expanded its Confederate flag policy to prevent any championship events from being played in states “where the symbol has a prominent presence.”
The policy, which was enacted in 2001, previously allowed a college or university to host a championship game if it earned the right based on tournament seeding or ranking. The change now potentially cuts off a source of revenue for Mississippi as high-profile events like men’s basketball bring big bucks to host cities.
“We must do all we can to ensure that NCAA actions reflect our commitment to inclusion and support all our student-athletes,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert in a statement. “There can be no place within college sports where any student-athlete is demeaned or unwelcome.”
Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), has also called on Mississippi to change its flag and said the league will consider precluding events there if it does not comply.
Meanwhile, the Clarion Ledger reports organizations including the Mississippi Bankers Association, the Mississippi Economic Council and the Mississippi Library Association have also joined the call for a new flag. But, the Clarion Ledger noted, the state’s public universities and most private schools have not raised the flag in years. The same is true of cities including Jackson, Hattiesburg, Starkville, Vicksburg, Biloxi and Oxford.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention, a network of 2,100 churches in the state, has also called on Gov. Tate Reeves and the state legislature to adopt a new flag that “represents the dignity of every Mississippian and promotes unity, rather than division.”
“Currently, 38% of Mississippi is Black. And many of those Mississippians are hurt and chained by the historical symbolism of the current flag,” said Sean Parker, the executive director and treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, in a video statement. “This reality calls those of us who follow the Lord to stand up to help our hurting neighbor, and the application of this stance in part calls for a change to the current flag in order to mitigate the hurt that its symbolism entails.”
According to David Sansing, the late professor emeritus of history at the University of Mississippi, the flag dates back to 1894—and followed a period of nearly 30 years after the Civil War in which Mississippi did not have an official state flag.
The new flag came at the urging of Gov. John Marshall Stone, a Confederate veteran, and was likely designed by Sen. Edward Scudder, who was reportedly the son of a Confederate veteran.
Sansing said that in a 1924 speech to the Mississippi Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Scudder’s daughter, Fayssoux Scudder Corneil, said her father wanted to honor Confederate soldiers with the design.
This is certainly not the first time the flag has stirred controversy.
In 1988, for example, Aaron Henry, a member of the Mississippi Legislature and president of the Mississippi Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), introduced a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the state flag, but Sansing said it was never brought to the floor for a vote. Henry introduced similar bills in 1990, 1992 and 1993.
In 1993, the Mississippi NAACP filed a lawsuit seeking “an injunction against any future purchases, displays, maintenance or expenditures of state funds on the State Flag” on the grounds it violated the constitutional rights of Black citizens “to free speech and expression, due process and equal protection as guaranteed by the Mississippi Constitution.” The suit was dismissed by the Hinds County Chancery Court—a decision Sansing noted was later upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court.