John Grisham, Morgan Freeman, others call for change to Mississippi flag

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"It's time for Mississippi to fly a flag for all its people" reads open letter

These prominent voices already have several influential Mississippi politicians on their side

CNN  — 

John Grisham has helped pen another legal drama. This time it was not a work of fiction, but a protest letter.

In what has become the latest variation on a recent, but familiar, theme, a prominent group of people signed a letter published Sunday in the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger calling on Mississippi to change its flag.

“It’s time for Mississippi to fly a flag for all its people,” read the letter, printed as a full-page advertisement.

The Mississippi flag currently features an emblem of the Confederate Battle Flag in its top left corner, a symbol that has engendered no shortage of controversy.

The Mississippi state flag still incorporates the Confederate battle flag.

The letter’s signatories included author and former Mississippi State Rep. John Grisham, Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman, football legend and patriarch Archie Manning, musician Jimmy Buffett and some 60 other cultural and business figures.

Echoing the anti-Confederate flag sentiment, bikers from all corners of Mississippi rallied in support of change on Sunday in the city of Jackson, the state’s capital.

“The flag issue has promoted so much division and racial separation, and today, we’re asking for Mississippi to take the flag down,” said biker Stacy Vance to CNN affiliate WLBT/WDBD.

These voices, from artists to business leaders to bikers, already have several influential Mississippi politicians on their side. Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn and both of Mississippi’s U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, all support removing the Confederate emblem from their state’s flag.

The story in Mississippi makes it part of a larger trend of southern states reconsidering their official embrace of the Confederacy following the racially motivated act of terror in Charleston, South Carolina, during which nine black churchgoers lost their lives.

Since the attack in June, many people have reflected on their past support of the flag and changed their minds. Stores pulled the flag from their shelves. “The Dukes of Hazzard” changed its look. In July, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill removing the Confederate flag from the state’s capitol grounds.

The current state flag of Mississippi has been in use since 1894, well before several other formerly Confederate states embraced the symbol. According to CNN’s Ben Brumfield, the Confederate Battle Flag experienced a resurgence in the South as legal segregation ended.

Confederate battle flag: Separating the myths from facts

In 2001, Mississippi held a statewide referendum on its flag. Then, as now, John Grisham was among those who supported the removal of the confederate symbol, according an interview with Time Magazine.

The 2001 referendum resulted in overwhelming support for keeping the Confederate emblem flying, with voters deciding in its favor by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. A decision to remove the emblem would constitute a major shift in opinion.

Sunday’s letter demonstrated a diverse coalition in support of change, which might reflect a new view of Confederate symbols in Mississippi.

“The Rebel flag meant one thing to Lee and his men 150 years ago,” read the letter. “Today, to many, it stands for something far different.”