JACKSON, Miss., Jan. 19 (UPI) -- A group of Mississippi residents gathered at the state capitol in Jackson on Tuesday to try and persuade lawmakers to keep the state's current flag design.
The Mississippi flag has come under fire in recent months because its design incorporates the controversial Confederate symbol -- an image that many now associate with racism.
More than 100 people attended the rally Tuesday, including members of the Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Dixie Alliance and the Magnolia State Heritage Campaign. Some supporters waived the flag on the south side of the Capitol.
The Confederate flag, also called the "Rebel Flag," has taken a beating over the last several months in the wake of last June's mass shooting of nine people at a black South Carolina church. The accused gunman, Dylann Roof, had made several posts online that prominently displayed the Confederate symbol.
Since the shootings, multiple southern states and businesses have expelled images of the flag from government grounds and retail shops. South Carolina was one of the first to act in that regard.
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said this week that it's his belief it is time for a new flag. The state legislature could implement such a change or put it on the ballot as a referendum and let voters decide.
"You can't blame what happened in Charleston on this flag," Oklahoma resident Andrew Duncomb, who traveled to Jackson for the rally, said. "That's one sick, demented human being, and you can't judge the rest of all these people (based on that)."
Several Mississippi lawmakers also attended the rally in support of the state flag.
The most common argument used to support the Confederate symbol claims it is not a representation of racism or hatred, but rather it is a tribute to the South's heritage.
"We should be proud of being in Mississippi and proud of being different, and not just follow suit with everybody else," resident Charlotte Webb said. "We want to keep our flag."
"To be blunt, I refer to it as the American Taliban," resident Charles McMichael added. "We have seen in the Middle East in dictatorial countries where a regime comes in and destroys priceless works of art, statues, status, treasures that belong to all the people of the country. They rob people their culture."
Many critics, though, disagree. Actions to remove the flag or Confederate symbols have been taken in South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana. Also, retailers like Walmart, eBay and Amazon have taken steps to stop the selling of merchandise bearing the Rebel mark.
Similarly, the University of Mississippi in October removed flags from its Oxford campus at the insistence of students and some school leaders.