House Speaker Philip Gunn says 13 black state lawmakers have committed to attend the Southern Legislative Conference in Biloxi.
In May, the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus announced plans to boycott the conference over the state flag. The conference is slated to bring lawmakers and other government officials from 15 states to Mississippi from July 29-Aug. 2.
“We are anticipating more than 1,300 attendees this year and are looking forward to robust discussions throughout the week on the many opportunities and challenges facing state government officials,” said Gunn, a Republican and chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference. “I appreciate the 13 Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus members who are committed to attending SLC this year and tackling the issue of racial relations.”
Gunn didn’t identify the 13 black lawmakers of the 51-member caucus planning to attend the conference.
Gregory Porter, president of the 700-member National Black Caucus of State Legislators, in a letter had urged support of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus’ position to move the conference out of Mississippi. Gunn, however, said the decision was made two years ago to hold the Southern Legislative Conference in the state and plans have been underway since then.
In May, the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus urged the SLC to support the effort to replace the state flag.
“The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC) refuses to turn its back on the millions of people who are forced to live and function under the oppressive symbol of our state flag,” Chairwoman Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, said in a statement.
The Legislative Black Caucus requested that SLC support its efforts to replace the flag with one that all Mississippians can fly proudly, Williams-Barnes said at the time.
A call placed to Williams-Barnes regarding Gunn’s comment on attendance brought this statement on Monday:
“The MLBC (Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus) reaffirms its commitment to the people of Mississippi. We are joined by NBCSL (National Black Caucus of State Legislators), Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus, Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, Texas Legislative Black Caucus and colleagues from Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida in our efforts to replace the flag with one that all Mississippians can fly proudly.”
Williams-Barnes also reiterated the fact that the Mississippi NAACP State Conference supports the caucus’ decision to boycott the Southern Legislative Conference.
Mississippi is the only state with a Confederate emblem as part of its state flag.
Gunn has publicly voiced support for changing the state flag, but there has been no major push on behalf of government leaders to do so.
Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said a decision on changing the state flag should come from voters. Voters in a 2001 referendum decided against changing the flag.
Porter said in his letter to Gunn that black lawmakers weren’t the only ones calling for the removal of the Confederate symbol from the state flag.
“All eight of Mississippi’s universities and several counties and cities have stopped flying the flag because of the Confederate symbol,” Porter said.
Porter said the small action of moving the SLC would demonstrate that those interested in a progressive Mississippi are not alone.
Gunn said the economic impact of hosting an SLC annual meeting generally is estimated to be $2.4 million. He said that would be a great stimulator for a region so often in need of such a revenue-generating event.
Many local businesses and the community-at-large benefit from serving as the host of a SLC annual meeting, Gunn said.