JACKSON, Miss. — A black Mississippi Capitol Police officer fired after a weekend confrontation with protesters waving Confederate battle flags and Mississippi flags outside the state's new civil rights museum got his job back a day after the discipline was publicly reported.
A video posted Saturday on Facebook captured the encounter with Officer Wardell Jackson, 57, of Byram, Miss., and an unidentified white protester.
Waving Confederate battle flags around the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which opened Dec. 9 and African Americans hold in high regard, is "almost like desecration," said state Rep. Kathy Sykes, a Democrat from Jackson.
Mississippi is the only state with a Confederate battle flag incorporated in its state flag design. The state flag doesn't fly outside the civil rights museum or its companion, the History of Mississippi Museum, and it also isn't displayed outside any of the state's major universities.
The Delta Flaggers, a Greenwood, Miss.-based group, protest outside state institutions that don't fly the state flag. The flag was adopted in 1894, and in 2001, Mississippi voters chose to keep the controversial symbol by a 2-to-1 margin.
"I think it was too drastic to fire him. It sends the wrong message," Sykes said Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration officials, who oversee the Capitol Police, confirmed that Jackson had been rehired. The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion Ledger had reported Tuesday on the dismissal.
Sykes praised the move.
"Hopefully, in the future our employees won’t be subject to harassment on their job," she said.
Jackson, a former City of Jackson police officer, said the situation began with a man asking if he could stand on top of the brick sign for the civil rights and state history museums.
Jackson said he told the man that he couldn't do that because the driveway needed to be kept open "for my museum people to come in."
Then a second man came holding a Mississippi flag, he said.
"He kept saying, 'This is your flag. Why don't you support your flag?' " Jackson said. That man and others tried to turn the situation into a racial matter. "I felt I kept my cool."
Jackson said he was fired Monday and rehired Wednesday. He said he is suspended until Feb. 19 and will start again but on the midnight shift.
"I did my job," Jackson said. "I kept them off property. Now I'm being punished."
In the video that the Delta Flaggers posted, Jackson can be seen walking up to a man waving a Mississippi flag while standing on the sidewalk outside the museum. Jackson said to him, "Sir, sir, stop acting the fool and get over there off the sidewalk."
A woman shouted back, "It's a public sidewalk."
A petition drive is now under way to add flying the 1894 state flag to Mississippi's 1890 Constitution, which at one point sought to disenfranchise African Americans through poll taxes and literacy tests.
In front of the civil rights museum Saturday, Jackson continued to confront the protesters.
"People, people, let me tell you something if you set foot on this grass, I'm going to have to throw you back out of here," he said.
When Jackson grabbed the flagpole for a moment, pretending to jerk it away, the man waving the flag said, "That's assault."
"Did I put my hands on you?" the officer asked. "Thank you."
Another man yelled out, "You hit him with the stick."
Jackson told the man with the flag to get off the sidewalk.
"You're the a--hole," the man said.
"You need to get your a-- off the sidewalk," Jackson replied. Then he told the crowd taking the video, "See, I can't be nice to y'all."
After ordering the man with the flag off the sidewalk, Jackson and the Delta Flagger exchanged words. The man with the flag finally left the sidewalk, and Jackson raised his fist.
Follow Jerry Mitchell on Twitter: @JMitchellNews