A city that relies heavily on tourism is joining several other local governments in abandoning the Mississippi flag because it contains the Confederate battle emblem.
Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gillich has ordered the state flag pulled from display at all municipal buildings.
City spokesman Vincent Creel said Monday that Gillich believes removing the flag will help the city’s 5.7 million visitors a year feel welcome.
“We don’t think we should give them any reason to reconsider their decision to visit our community,” Creel said. “We don’t think we should have anything that’s controversial.”
Gillich won a special election in 2015, and decided upon taking office that only the U.S. flag should be flown on city property, Creel said. However, the state flag was still flying at some buildings. Gillich is now up for re-election and faces an opponent in the May 2 Republican primary. He was asked about the state flag Saturday during a forum sponsored by the NAACP.
Creel said it’s a coincidence that the Mississippi flag was being removed Monday as the state marked Confederate Memorial Day. Although state government offices and some county offices were closed for the holiday, those in Biloxi remained open.
Mississippi is the last state with a flag that includes the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue tilted cross with 13 white stars. The state has used the same flag since 1894. Voters chose to keep it in a 2001 election, but it remains a topic of debate in a state with a nearly 38 percent black population.
The flag and other Confederate symbols have come under increased scrutiny since the June 2015 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The man convicted in the case, an avowed white supremacist, had previously posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos published online.
All eight of Mississippi’s public universities and several counties and cities, including the capital city of Jackson, have stopped flying the state flag because of the rebel symbol.