On June 14, Flag Day, the United States Capitol will be the site of the Take It Down America Rally: X the X. Led by actress Aunjanue Ellis, Michael Eric Dyson, and others, the goal is to garner support to remove the “Stars and Bars” of the Confederate flag that is the dominant portion of the state flag of Mississippi.
In an exclusive interview, Ellis explains, “Mississippi is the only state that still has imagery of the Confederate States of America as part of its state flag. Our belief is that Confederate imagery of the KKK has no place in civic life in this country. We’re taking this fight to Washington, DC because Mississippi is a part of the United States of America. This country cannot compartmentalize Mississippi. America as a whole is responsible.”
When asked how this is a national issue, and not one confined within Mississippi, Ellis explains: “We are holding the rally in Washington, DC to make the case to the country that if it happens in Mississippi, it can happen anywhere. We are insisting on a national discussion, not just about the flag, but what it does. We live in a time, where all over the country, what’s happening in Mississippi is happening everywhere. Mississippi is contagious. We try to ignore Mississippi, but you can’t ignore what is happening here: chronic poverty, an overwrought educational system, over-incarceration of young Black males, over-policing of children. All of this comes from the arrogance of those who want to keep that flag. That shouldn’t be acceptable in this country in 2016.”
Using her platform as an actress who stars on ABC’s hit show, Quantico, Ellis wore a gown that read “Take It Down Mississippi,” with a bloody handprint, to the 2016 NAACP Image Awards. Ellis promises, “I won’t shoot and produce films and other productions in Mississippi until the flag comes down.”
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Ellis dismisses the inevitable comparisons between Mississippi’s flag and that of South Carolina, which was removed from the state house by Bree Newsome. “Mississippi is different from South Carolina because South Carolina just had that flag at the State House.” The actual South Carolina state flag features a white crescent moon and palmetto tree. “Mississippi’s flag is our official State Emblem. One cannot go to the library, get a marriage permit, go to school, get a driver’s license, without being confronted by the flag.”
While noting the distinction between Mississippi and South Carolina, Ellis also hoped South Carolina would be a catalyst. “When they brought the flag down in South Carolina for good, we had hoped that it would be an opportunity to have a reckoning and that Mississippi would follow suit. The Mississippi state legislature met in January through April. We thought there would be a bill introduced.” In fact, there were approximately a dozen bills introduced to modify or remove the flag. “We thought a vote was imminent. But they killed every bill in committee. They wouldn’t vote on it.” To add insult to injury, April was designated Confederate History Month in Mississippi. “Their response is to further align themselves, essentially, with Dylann Roof,” who killed nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina last June. Roof proudly posted pictures of himself on social media with the Confederate flag. Instead of confining the fight within the state of Mississippi, Ellis explains, “The work I’m doing is outside of the [Mississippi state] legislature, because we want to influence those outside of the state. The flag has historically been a marching order to kill and maim American citizens. Why are we not taking responsibility for that?”
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Aunjanue Ellis invites everyone to the Take It Down America Rally at 11:00am on June 14 at the US Capitol. If you cannot make it there, follow #TakeItDownAmerica on social media.