PHILADELPHIA (AP) – About 50 Bernie Sanders supporters protesting before the Democratic National Convention on Monday sat down in a roadway until city officials agreed to remove Mississippi’s state flag, which includes the Confederate battle emblem.
Philadelphia’s first deputy managing director, Brian Abernathy, said the flag and another one nearby would be removed Monday night. He said the city started to receive complaints from residents after the flags recently went up as part of reinvigoration efforts on Broad Street, where the flags of all 50 states fly from light poles, ahead of the convention.
“The Confederate flag raises strong feelings in our city and across the country,” Abernathy said.
The people protesting the flag, which is viewed by many blacks as a symbol of slavery, were part of a group of hundreds marching toward the arena hosting the convention. Police told the marchers they weren’t allowed to climb the pole and take the flag down. The crowd heckled the officers, telling them to think for themselves.
Sanders, a Vermont U.S. senator and former Democratic presidential candidate, is backing former opponent Hillary Clinton, who’s expected to be nominated at the convention this week. Many of his supporters, though, say they don’t trust her and don’t want to vote for her.
Many members of Mississippi’s Democratic delegation are avowed opponents of the state flag, which features the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner. Nearly 38 percent of Mississippi residents are black, the highest percentage of any state.
Mississippi is the only state with a flag that still includes the emblem. The symbol has been there since 1894, and voters chose to keep it in 2001. Supporters of the flag, including Sons of Confederate Veterans, say it represents their heritage.
Lawyer Carlos Moore, who is from Grenada, Mississippi, and is a Clinton delegate, has sued in federal court in an attempt to have the flag declared an unconstitutional vestige of slavery, but a judge has yet to rule. Moore said he welcomed Monday’s protest.
“I’ve always felt that the entire country was complicit in us having that treacherous symbol, and if more of them took a stand it would come down sooner rather than later,” said Moore, who’s black.
Another Mississippi Democratic delegate, U.S. Rep Bennie Thompson, has tried to ban Confederate symbols on the House side of the U.S. Capitol. Republicans blocked that move this year.
Confederate images have come under fresh scrutiny since last year’s massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The white man awaiting trial in the slayings had previously posed with the Confederate battle flag in photos posted online.
Weeks after the June 17, 2015, shooting, South Carolina lawmakers removed a Confederate battle flag that had flown for generations on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. The University of Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi and several local governments stopped flying the state flag in the past year.