Aunjanue Ellis has deep roots in Mississippi and despite being an accomplished actress on the big screen and in the theatre, she still calls Mississippi home. Yet every time she returns to McComb, Mississippi, Ellis said, she feels a sense of unease because of elected officials’ refusal to remove the state flag which is incorporates the Confederate stars and bars into its design.
Aunjanie Ellis is an American actor who is pressing the government of Mississippi to remove its Confederate Flag. (Courtesy Photo)
“I was raised here and I have always had a level of discomfort because of the flag,” Ellis told the AFRO. “I wasn’t really educated about it. I left and traveled. It’s very jarring for me to live in other places where there is a level of shame but not here. Every part of me was saying this was unacceptable.
“The flag is marching orders to young men to kill. This isn’t about us not wanting people to put the flag on their trucks or fly it in their front yards. The problem is when it’s paid for with public tax dollars.”
Ellis has been leading the effort to publicize and coalesce supporters around the issue and publicly shame Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) and state lawmakers into following South Carolina’s lead and removing the Confederate flag from all public places, cemeteries, statues, and other places where it currently flies. During the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the Mississippi state flag was reportedly removed from a street lined with all 50 state flags.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) removed the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House last year after 21-year-old White supremacist Dylan Roof shot and killed nine members of Emanuel African Episcopal Methodist Church in Charleston. On Flag Day, June 14, the actress and activists traveled by bus with a group of Jackson State University students and other millennial activists to Capitol Hill.
The activists met with members of Congress and several addressed the crowd at a rally near the Capitol dome. Ellis said her involvement is very important to her and she and other organizers want to reframe the discussion about the Confederate flag and ignite a national conversation about race.
“We stand here to declare that the stories are many and experiences are varied. The flag must represent the people who fall under it,” said activist Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “Some people say the flag isn’t an issue. It’s a fragment of a more problematic whole. It represents . . . a bloodstained, bigoted past and a resistance of change in the present.”
Lumumba, whose late father and namesake was revered in the Black nationalist movement for his work as an attorney and politician, said, “The mission is to change the state of Mississippi and change the state of this country.
“. . . The issue begins with how we see ourselves,” he said. “We cannot see ourselves through this flag. If this is the image of war, who is the state of Mississippi at war with? It’s a war against the Black residents of Mississippi. Now is the time to open our eyes and take an honest look at the people who support this flag.”
Reps. Hakeem Jefferies (D-New York), Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), and Jared Hoffman (D-California), in their remarks, offered their support for the flag ban. “I stand with you shoulder-to-shoulder . . . we call for this symbol of hate and racism to be removed,” said Hoffman. “The Confederate flag was the battle flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee. It is the symbol of treason, Jim Crow and segregation – all the horrors of racial hatred. The good news is that we’re making progress but not fast enough.”
Hoffman said he introduced an amendment that would forbid sales of the flag. “The amendment was so toxic to our Republican colleagues that they shut it down,” he said. The bill would prohibit the flying of the flag in military cemeteries and is now a part of the appropriations process.
Last year, Gov. Phil Bryant said in statement, “A vast majority of Mississippians voted to keep the state’s flag, and I don’t believe the Mississippi Legislature will act to supersede the will of the people on this issue.”
Attorney Carlos Moore, a Grenada, Mississippi. resident, said he shares Ellis’ revulsion for the Confederate flag and what it represents. In February, the Mississippi-native filed suit in federal court after the Alabama legislature allowed 12 bills, that called for the flag to be taken down, to die in committee.
“We’re here to declare to America that we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said. “The governor has a hard heart. He’s pharaoh and the legislators are his imps. South Carolina had a hard heart. I thought that surely if South Carolina did it, Mississippi would.”