JACKSON (AP) — The Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag is prompting public protests and private discussions about race relations at a Southern legislative meeting.
Lawmakers and staff members from 15 states are in Biloxi, Mississippi, for the Southern Legislative Conference annual meeting, which started Saturday and goes through Wednesday.
Participants are discussing energy, public safety and other issues that cut across state lines. But most members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus are boycotting the meeting because of the flag, and more than a dozen other people with a group called the Mississippi Rising Coalition protested the banner Saturday outside the meeting's opening reception in Gulfport.
Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate emblem — a red field topped by a blue tilted cross topped by 13 white stars. Critics see the symbol as a racist reminder of slavery and segregation, but supporters say it represents history and heritage.
About 50 black and white lawmakers from Mississippi, Georgia and other states had a meeting Monday to discuss how Confederate symbols affect race relations and the economy. Democrat George Flaggs, a black former Mississippi lawmaker who is now mayor of Vicksburg, took part in the meeting that was closed to the public and the media.
Flaggs told The Associated Press that a white lawmaker from Georgia said removing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag there several years ago has boosted the economy and helped improve race relations.
When the legislative meeting opened Saturday, protesters picketed with signs and speeches to denounce the Mississippi flag.