On Sunday, Aug. 20, counter- protesters made their presence known to the recurring group of Mississippi state flag supporters on The University of Southern Mississippi’s campus. While this is the flag protesters’ ninety-fifth consecutive appearance on the campus, this is the second time counter-protesters have come.
Protesters from both sides began to arrive around noon as law enforcement from Hattiesburg and its surrounding cities set up barricades and made accommodations for peaceful protests. Police blocked off certain roads on campus, set up blockades, divided the parking for each side, set road lights to blink yellow and observed.
“We’re here to make sure that those people who have requested to express their passion and conviction regarding keeping our state flag and those who are in favor of getting rid of it – giving them the opportunity to do that safely and without fear of harm,” Chief Bob Hopkins of the University Police Department said.
The flag protesters bore Mississippi state and Trump flags along with signs reading, “No state flag, no state funding,” “stand fast Mississippians” and “don’t tread on me.” The counter- protesters held signs saying, “Black lives matter,” “white supremacy is a lie,” “stop advocating treason” and “heritage of hate,” to name a few.
Retired USM Civil War Professor, William K. Scarborough, was present on the flag-defenders side. He has been present at the majority of the past rallies in the front of campus.
“We’re protesting the fact that the [USM] president took the state flag down without consulting anybody – I’m protesting more than that. This campaign to eradicate every vestige of the heritage of the Confederacy,” Scarborough said. “I’m very angry about it – I’m not interested in reconciling with anybody. I’m just angry – I don’t like ‘em, I hate ‘em if you wanna know the truth. They’re very unreasonable.”
According to Mississippi Rising Coalition’s event page on Facebook, Solidarity Counter-Protest of USM Flaggers, they “will stand in solidarity with the residents of Hattiesburg and USM students in their second counter- protest of the USM Flaggers and their racist flags which have been flown for 94 Sundays.”
The counter-protesters’ side shouted throughout the rally things such as “You are a traitor,” “no hate in our state” and “change.” They also sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “All You Need is Love.” Some shouted profanities back at the flaggers while some kept the chants milder.
History professor Douglas Chambers made an appearance on the anti-flag side and joined in on the chants and plans on returning on subsequent Sundays. Along with Chambers, senior social work major Reginald Virgil, led a speech on the counter-protesters side. Not only was he present at the protests, but also was a leading speaker at the vigil held on campus Monday, Aug. 14.
“Stand up and be the change of this nation,” Virgil said.
Despite having peaceful protests, some threats were made. Junior accounting major Sam Landrum showed up with a “Pepe” sign, and was threatened until being asked to leave by officials for his safety.
“I attended the protest to stand in solidarity with other anti-flag protesters. I believe the confederate battle flag represents hate to many Mississippians and should be removed from the state flag,” Landrum said. “I brought a painting of Pepe the frog. I thought it was funny – apparently only Nazis like Pepe. I was called a white nationalist, a Nazi and a racist. Many of the protesters made physical threats to me so I left after the police asked me to. I expected the flaggers to be jerks, because to be honest I was making fun of them. But they just laughed at me and politely asked me to leave.”
The protest began to die out around 5 p.m. Protesters from each side plan to continue this trend and be present every Sunday until otherwise stated.