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NAACP Threatens Mississippi Boycott

The NAACP raised the threat of an economic boycott Wednesday to drag Mississippi "kicking and screaming into the 21st century" after voters overwhelmingly decided to keep their 107-year-old state flag with the Confederate emblem.

NAACP leaders said they will decide next month whether to lead a boycott, a tactic used by the organization against South Carolina, where a Confederate flag flew for decades over the Statehouse dome until it was taken down last year.

"That flag has never been my flag, nor will it ever be my flag nor the flag of black people in the state of Mississippi who really understand the reason behind the Confederate flag and all of its history," state NAACP President Eugene Bryant said.

By nearly 2-to-1 Tuesday, Mississippi voters decided to keep their 1894 flag, rejecting a new design that would have replaced the Confederate emblem with a cluster of 20 stars signifying Mississippi's admission as the 20th state.

No other state prominently displays the Confederate emblem on its flag.

Mississippi NAACP official Deborah Denard said the state will have to be "dragged along kicking and screaming into the 21st century."

"Mississippi is kind of acting like children in that regard," Denard said. "They know that the Confederate banner has to go eventually, but they have to cling to antiquated ideas about what constitutes honor and dignity."

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove supported the new flag, saying the racially divisive Confederate symbol could hurt business. After the vote, he said: "It's important that we accept the majority vote and move forward with the business of bringing new jobs and better opportunities to all Mississippians."

Even though Mississippi lacks the drawing power of a major city like Atlanta, tourism-related businesses employ 94,000 people and pumped $6 billion into the state economy last year. Gambling at 30 state-regulated casinos accounted for $2.62 billion of that.

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William Earl Faggert, a state Sons of Confederate Veterans leader, condemned the possibility of boycotts.

"Our state had withstood yet another unbelievable assault on its culture by a few of its own citizens and other outside influence that cowered toward political correctness carried to the extreme," he said.

Voters had two choices Tuesday: keep the current 1894 flag with the Confederate emblem of 13 white stars on a blue X, or adopt a new flag with 20 white stars on a blue square, denoting Mississippi's role as the 20th state.

Farmer Terry Galey voted to keep the old banner.

"I've had things on my farm that have been working for 20 years and if they're still working, why change them?" he said on a crisp spring day during cotton-planting time acrosthe Delta.

Honoring Confederate Heritage month with a 15-gun salute in front of the Confederate monument Monday, at the Jones County Courthouse in Laurel, Miss. The Sons of the Confederate Veterans moved up the service from the end of the month, because of Tuesday's vote on the flag.

In a state where William Faulkner said the past is never dead, the flag debate, while largely peaceful, polarized some voters along racial lines.

Some whites said they support the old flag because it represents their heritage and was the banner they saluted as children. Many blacks see the emblem as a symbol of past injustices, including beatings and lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan. The state, with 2.8 million people, is 61 percent white and 36 percent black.

The state Supreme Court ruled last May that the 1894 banner is not officially Mississippi's state flag because its design was not carried forward when the state's laws were updated in 1906.

The Legislature decided to let the voters choose between the old flag and a new one.

The vote is part of a larger debate across the South over how to deal with its troubled racial history as it focuses on the future.

In neighboring Alabama, jury selection is under way in the trial of a white man accused in one of the civil rights era's most notorious crimes, the 1963 bombing of Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The bombing killed four black girls.

In recent years, prosecutors in Mississippi and other states also have dusted off files of old civil rights cases.

In a poll last month, two-thirds of respondents favored keeping the 1894 flag. The poll, commissioned by The Associated Press and other news organizations, was conducted before advocates on either side geared up with ads, telephone calls and rallies.

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