Rallying round the flag to tear down Confederate symbol

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     A city worker rises to the Mississippi state flag to take it down following calls from protesters for the flag featuring a Confederate symbol to be removed. (Bobby Allyn / WHYY)

    A city worker rises to the Mississippi state flag to take it down following calls from protesters for the flag featuring a Confederate symbol to be removed. (Bobby Allyn / WHYY)

    On their way to assemble in front of the Wells Fargo Center, dozens of marchers on Monday sat down in front of a light pole at Broad and Passyunk Avenue.

    “Take it down,” the crowd chanted, as the modestly-sized 1894 Mississippi state flag waved above.

    The protesters demanded the Mississippi state flag, which features a Confederate battle flag in left corner, be removed. Along South Broad, the flags of all 50 states were flying for the Democratic National Convention, but the symbolism on this flag, the protesters said, is an offensive relic of racial segregation. 

    One protester threw shoes tied to a rope attempting to yank it down, and police narrowed in on him. A police captain on scene accessed the situation and decided to call a city truck with a ladder to come to the scene.

    “Right now there’s a guy going up there to take down the flag. It’s beautiful. We’re all cheering. Everybody is here, we’re all watching it happen,” said Elana Bowen of San Antonio, who was among the protesters insisting the flag be removed.

    “He’s just taken it off. It’s all off the pole,” Bowen said. “It’s all off the pole. Everybody is cheering. The confederate flag is gone.”

    The tension dissipated after this. Marchers began chanting “thank you, thank you” to the police and began inching closer to the main convention stage farther south.

    Even before the protesters groaned about the flag, some neighbors complained to city officials that it was an unseemly symbol.

    “We asked for the flags to be taken down as soon as they appeared,” said Jed Levin, who lives near where the flag was placed.

    In 2001, Mississippi overwhelmingly voted to keep the Confederate battle flag as part of the state’s official banner, the only remaining state to feature the polarizing symbol on a state emblem. Several members of the Mississippi Democratic Delegation reject the symbolism on the flag. Mississippi is 37 percent African-American, the highest percentage of African-Americans of any state.

    Back in South Philly, once the crowd left, Nick D’Arecca stepped out of a pizza shop in front of the empty flagpole. He seemed irritated.

    “We fly the flags of all 50 states up and down Broad Street, as a sign of unity and as a welcome from people who come from other places,” said D’Arecca, who, Besides delivering pizza, is an adjunct history professor at Temple University.

    “When you block a public thoroughfare, you’re breaking the law. And to demand that they take down a flag of the state of the Union, and have the police cave into them, I think is shameful,” he said.

    Victory for some; shameful for others. But police cleared the scene without making a single arrest.

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