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Mississippi's kinder Confederate flag debate

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Ask Mississippians like Jim Giles and Anthony Hervey about the state flag, and they will spend more than a few minutes explaining their opinion, in detail.

Mr. Giles, who heads a Southern heritage group, and Mr. Hervey, director of the Black Confederate Soldiers Foundation, both say the flag, with its Confederate emblem, should remain as a reminder of the past. "It's about a past, however oppressive, that we must not forget," says Hervey. "If we forget it, we may not be able to remember to go forward."

If the flag must change to suit these politically correct times, they say, then Magnolia State voters, not politicians, should decide the banner's fate.

Lawmakers agree. In an effort to avert the protests and bitterness that have spread across Dixie, Mississippi is waging a listening campaign. By soliciting citizens' thoughts at town meetings and in high school essay contests, the state hopes to foster a spirit of civility and consensus to deal with what has proved to be rancorous issue for the South.

From Alabama, where the battle to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol dome lasted more than 30 years, to Arkansas, where many have questioned the star representing the Confederacy on the state's flag, the fight between the right to possess heritage versus the need to obliterate oppression continues to shadow the South.

"You will never see an issue in the South ever again that generates such passion," says David Sansing, a retired professor who has written textbooks on Mississippi history. "It won't fade as time goes on."

Indeed, for years the flag issue has waved over the South's courtrooms and capitols as the region has attempted to mend racial strife and move forward from a past filled with revered imagery of Southern belles, moonlight, and magnolias.

Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Rebel flag has inspired mixed messages, representing Southern pride and Southern hate, in groups from rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Ku Klux Klan.

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