Lawyers group objects to flag display

The Plaza of the Flags stands near Orange County Superior Court.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

A group of Orange County attorneys is calling for the removal of Mississippi’s state flag from a display at Santa Ana’s Civic Center, saying its Confederate design symbolizes racism and hatred.

The Mississippi flag is the last to feature the Confederate battle cross — a symbol “inextricably linked to a legacy of racism, exclusion, oppression and violence,” the Newport Beach-based Orange County Bar Assn. said in a statement.

The association recently passed a resolution seeking the flag’s removal from Santa Ana’s Plaza of the Flags, where the banners of all 50 states ripple in a civic center that also includes the county’s central courthouse.

“I am proud of the board of directors for passing this important resolution on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address,” Orange County Bar Assn. President Wayne Gross said in a statement. The emblem, he added, “has no place in or around courthouses.”

Gross, whose office is in Costa Mesa, said the flag first came to his attention in October, when his law partner called him after a trial.

“I picked up the phone expecting a case update,” Gross said. “He said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but the Mississippi flag is flying out here.’”

This isn’t the first time the Confederate symbol’s place above the plaza has caused a flap.

In 1997, a Laguna Hills attorney campaigned unsuccessfully to have the flags of Mississippi and Georgia taken down.

Georgia has since changed its flag design, stripping it of the Confederate cross about a decade ago.

However, a similar effort by Mississippi lawmakers and advocates in 2001 failed by a substantial margin, with two-thirds of the state’s residents backing the old design in a sharply divisive vote.

Brett Kelley, curator of collections at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa., said the sight of any reminder of the Confederacy is likely to stir emotions — even in California, where the Civil War is a less prominent cultural touchstone.

“Pretty much wherever the Confederate battle flag is displayed, there’s people who are going to be sensitive to that,” he said.

Still, he cautioned against broadly equating the flag with hatred.

“Our history is our history,” he said. “We own it, good or bad.”

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach said he was a little surprised by the association’s taking offense at the flag’s presence.

“I see it as an interesting issue, but it seems odd, “ he said. “I’m not aware of some kind of national effort to make an issue of Mississippi’s flag.”

In any case, said Gerardo Mouet, who heads Santa Ana’s parks and recreation department, the debate over the flag might soon be moot.

Before the association approached the city about removing the flag, he said, his staff had already begun brainstorming ways to expand the use of the large concrete plaza, an underutilitzed asset in a city hurting for more recreational space.

Mouet added that city and county staff were working together on ideas for the jointly operated area. For example, he said, they might look into installing portable skateboard ramps on weekends, turning what is during the week a passive expanse into a busy skate park.

Whatever happens to the plaza could involve getting rid of all the state flags, Mouet said — Mississippi’s included.