Jackson County

The KKK didn't send boxes of white sheets to Ocean Springs officials. But who told the media?

Ocean Springs officials have been trying to put the issue of the state flag behind them after aldermen voted to fly the flag at all city buildings and ask for statewide referendum.

But the Mississippi Rising Coalition hasn't let that happen. They've marched. They've handed out "take down the flag" stickers at festivals. And they've spoken at many Board of Aldermen meetings since the flag went back up in front of City Hall.

And now, it appears someone at City Hall has added fuel to that fire. When packages from Amazon.com addressed to Mayor Shea Dobson and the seven aldermen arrived at City Hall no one knew what was in them.

Turns out it was white sheets and a message for officials: "Hi Alderman, I wasn't quite sure of your size, so just consider this a do-it-yourself kit. Your other option, of course, being to grow a spine, publicly denounce the Klan and take down the flag. From Sarah Halstead."

Mississippi Rising, the NAACP and others oppose the flag because they said it is an emblem that signifies a belief in white supremacy and is hurtful to black people. And at times, the conversation has turned ugly. The Ku Klux Klan has sent videos to the coalition and the media saying among other things the flag won't be taken down.

That's likely what the sender was referring to. But who got the message to the media, where it quickly spread across social media?

No one but the sender, presumably Sarah Halstead of Roanoke, Viriginia, and the people who received them knew anything about it. But what happens in City Hall doesn't stay in City Hall, at least in Ocean Springs, and soon a reporter from the Mississippi Press knew and was calling the officials.

The mayor and the five aldermen the Sun Herald talked to all say they didn't let the sheet out of the bag and don't know who did.

"I just know that it showed up in the newspaper this morning," said Alderman Rob Blackman. Most of us got calls from that reporter yesterday and that's it."

Alderman Bobby Cox, Rickey Authement, Mike Impey and Joseph Bellman all said they don't know. John Gill and Ken Papania haven't responded. Neither has former Ocean Springs resident Halstead.

The aldermen and Dobson said messages such as the one in the package unfairly portray them as racists. Dobson said they'll probably give the sheets to a charity and "focus on the good and what's great about Ocean Springs.".

"If I say something somebody doesn't like, I'm painted as a racist," he said. "Can you at least give me the benefit of the doubt that I have good intentions? At the very least. You don't have to agree with policy, you don't have to agree with the board's policy, with the board's action. Can we at least give each other the benefit of the doubt?"