JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Protesters calling on Mississippi to erase the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag include a Mississippi actress who on Monday announced plans to move her film company from Mississippi to Louisiana.
Aunjanue Ellis, known for her work in “Ray,” “The Book of Negroes,” “NCIS New Orleans” and “The Help,” which was filmed in Mississippi, said she won’t work in the state until the flag is changed. She said her production company, Miss Myrtis Films, is canceling plans to make a movie in the state and will move to Louisiana until the flag is changed.
In a letter to the state, reported by news website gulflive.com, Ellis said Mississippi using the Confederate symbol in its state flag is “about a state in the United States of America sharing iconography with a terrorist organization,” clearly a reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
“Mississippi is my home,” she wrote. “Everything I love the most in this world was born here or I discovered here... The sum total of this state is not that flag.”
During a news conference Monday in the state Capitol, Jackson attorney Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the flag embodies hatred and represents “a noose South instead of the pride of the so-called new South.”
“A flag represents the unity of the people who fall under it and the collective interest of all. There are a lot of things we can hold pride in in Mississippi, but the flag is not one of them,” Lumumba said.
Debate over Confederate symbols reignited after the June 17 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“It’s sickening to me that people had to die in order for us to have this discussion,” Ellis said.
She tried to prompt public discussion about changing the Mississippi banner in 2014 by renting a billboard along Interstate 55 in Jackson, with “We Shall Overcome” written in Confederate flags.
Some Mississippi leaders, including Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, say the state flag should change to a design that would unify the state. Others, including Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, say the issue was settled by a 2001 election, when voters chose to keep the Confederate X that has been on the banner since 1894. Bryant said last week that he won’t call a special session on the flag, which means legislative debate won’t happen until at least January, when new lawmakers take office.
About 100 people participated in a protest outside the Capitol after Monday’s news conference, calling for a new flag design.
One white woman carried a sign with the slogan: “Take down the emblem of slavery.” Another carried a sign that said: “This is not a state flag. It is a plantation flag.”
Burt Jackson, who lives in Gulfport and works as a school counselor in Jackson, said it makes no sense for the state flag to include a symbol that represents the losing side of a war.
“That flag — if that’s your heritage, so be it,” said Jackson, who is African-American. “But your rights stop when they are infringing on mine. Keep it on your premises. Keep it at your house, if you want. It shouldn’t be on the state flag.”
Associated Press photographer Rogelio V. Solis contributed to this report.