GULFPORT -- In an effort to gather more signatures for its petition to change the state flag, the Flag for All Mississippians Coalition rallied Thursday at the Good Deeds Community Center.
Residents began filling the auditorium at 5 p.m., lining up to sign the petition and waiting patiently for the speakers to arrive.
"We need a flag that represents all people, not just one," Gulfport resident Derrick Lock said.
Lock, who served 25 years in the military, said even in other countries, Mississippi has a reputation for being a state full of racists.
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"When I was overseas, the first thing a foreigner would ask me is, 'Is Mississippi really that racist?'" Lock said. "Let's change it to something that everybody can vote on. We know the (current) flag divides people. It's just bad."
The Flag for All Mississippians Coalition is trying to collect 100,000 signatures within six months. If the petition drive is successful, the issue to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the flag will appear on a ballot for a public vote.
At the pace at which the coalition is growing, founder Sharon Brown said she is confident the group will reach its goal.
Brown, of Jackson, started the grass-roots
organization in August and has already held rallies and events throughout the state, attracting more support with each one.
"It caught on like wildfire," she said. "We started doing small community rallies, and it just caught on from there."
Brown said though she agrees the flag represents heritage, it doesn't represent everyone's heritage.
"A state flag should represent all of its citizens," she said. "We need a symbol that shows unity and not division."
Thursday night's first featured speaker was Lea Campbell, the coalition's Gulf Coast coordinator. Campbell drew applause from the crowd early in her speech, vowing to continue the effort.
"I will fight in this state as long as it takes to get that emblem taken off our state flag," she said. "And I really need every single one of you to help."