Black Mississippi woman wears Confederate flag and noose to vote

Courtesy: CNN
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(CNN) - Claudia Bivins wanted her grandson to understand the sacrifices African-Americans made to get the right to vote.

So when she left home Tuesday to vote in Mississippi's Senate runoff, she wore a Confederate flag draped around her shoulders and a red noose hanging from her neck.

The unconventional lesson left some people scratching their heads, but those who know Bivins said it made sense.

Carlos Wilson had an inkling of what she was up to when he saw her outside his polling station in Hattiesburg. The two know each other from their shared interests in political activism and social justice, said Wilson, a pastor at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.

"Claudia is very outspoken, a very conscious woman ... If there's something that's got to be said -- that needs to be said -- and if she's around, she's one of those people who will say it," he said.

"I immediately knew what was going on, but I always like to hear her story so I asked what the deal was today."

Bivins told CNN that her trip to the polls was a field trip with her 7-year-old grandson, who had completed a homework assignment the day before about why voting is important.

She brought the noose, she said, to symbolize the past lynching of her ancestors. The flag was to represent the heavy burden of racism that still exists on her shoulders today, she said.

"It still weighs me down," Bivins said. "The flag represents racism, slavery and affliction."

Bivins was part of the first integrated class in her high school, she said. One of the lessons she shared with her grandson Tuesday was that she wouldn't have been allowed in the school he now attends when she was his age, she said.

After voting, Bivins took her grandson to a place she frequents: the grave of Vernon Dahmer, a civil rights activist killed by the Ku Klux Klan for organizing voter registration for African Americans.

In years' past, Bivins said, she would often visit Dahmer's grave on election days. This year, she and her grandson laid the Confederate flag over his grave and placed olive branches and peppermint on it.

She said the olive branches symbolizes the champion that Dahmer was and the peppermint represents healing.

"As I laid the rebel flag down across Vernon's grave, I told my grandson what it represents -- our hope that racism and hatred would die," Bivins said. "That it would be killed at the root of our hearts, minds and souls."
Bivins said her demonstration was inspired by this week's runoff election, one that brought Mississippi's history of racism and lynching into focus. On the ballot was Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who told one supporter that she'd be "on the front row," if he "invited me to a public hanging."

Her campaign team called the comment an "exaggerated expression of regard," but the comment still cost her backing from big name donors like Walmart and Google. CNN also reported that Hyde-Smith once promoted a measure that praised a Confederate soldier's effort to "defend his homeland" and had pushed a revisionist view of the Civil War.

CNN projected on Tuesday night that Hyde-Smith defeated her opponent, Mike Espy, in the runoff election.

Bivins told CNN she disagreed with President Donald Trump's decision to campaign for Hyde-Smith. But Tuesday's field trip was about connecting the past with the present, she said, by introducing him to a martyr who died fighting for their right to vote.

"It was about teaching my grandson a part of history that is normally hidden or ignored," she said.

Some people may think Bivins' demonstration was in "poor taste," Wilson said. "But if you know Claudia and if you know the message she was trying to send, those of us who know her are very proud of her."