The Confederate flag is under fire across the South and across the nation, so it’s only natural the debate would find its way here to Mississippi. This state has the unfortunate distinction of being the only one to have the Confederate Flag on its state flag as seen in the image above.
This creates two major problems. Firstly, when it comes to Mississippi, we can’t just take it down. We are dealing with a major symbol of our state. Symbols such as these usually don’t change quickly.
We can’t just ‘take it down’ A statewide vote to change the flag was previously held in 2001 and voters decided to keep the current confederate version of the flag by an almost 2-1 margin. Some argue that’s because the proposed alternative was not a very good design, but blaming the outcome solely on that ignores well over 100 years of racially charged history in Mississippi.
It was Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn who ignited the current debate by stating:
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us, As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
It should be noted that, Gunn was the FIRST Republican elected official in the history of Mississippi to make such a statement about the Flag.
The response to Gunn’s comments was actually intriguing. First, from MS Governor Phil Bryant:
I don’t think that we need to go about trying to supersede the will of the people. The discussion was certainly not (unintelligible), but their vote was taken, it was on the ballot, and I think across the state of Mississippi, a fairly strong vote to keep it.
and from Lt. Governor Tate Reeves:
What happened in Charleston is simply pure irrational evil. There is no other description for this monster’s actions. He is an individual that has allowed his mind and soul to be horribly twisted and disfigured by irrational hate. No symbol or flag or website or book or movie made him evil - he was evil on his own.
Now if you know the politics of these two men (deep Republican), then the responses come as no surprise, but, despite what you may be thinking, these views are NOT shared by the entire Mississippi GOP. Here’s a statement from Republican rep Brad Mayo:
I have always been a fan of using the Magnolia flag as our state’s flag. Our family has flown it for more than 20 years,” Mayo said. “It is historical, unique and has not been co-opted by those preaching hate and violence because of one’s skin color, religion or belief system. I believe returning to our state’s original state flag is in the best interest of Mississippi and Mississippians.
And a join statement from Republican Sen. David Parker and Democratic Sen. Derrick Simmons:
Last year the Mississippi legislature changed the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi to add ‘In God We Trust’ to that historic symbol of our state. It recognizes our very real and historic recognition of a God who created all men equal and whose divine providence has shaped America and Mississippi. We believe it is time to change another historic symbol of our state, because we recognize that many of our citizens feel it is hurtful and represents a time and perspective that did not respect equality.
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), is calling for the flag to be changed as well:
After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians.
Henry Barbour, nephew of former Republican Governor Haley Barbour, is also for change:
MS voted 2:1 to keep our state flag in 2001, but I'm 4 change. I understand why many will want to keep it - respect that. just disagree
Of course other Republicans are following the Reeves/Bryant approach. This is a response from MS Sen. Melanie Sojourner to Mitt Romney’s Facebook post regarding the flag:
Mitt Romney’s call to action regarding the flying of one of this nation’s historical flags is an example of what is wrong with society today,” the post said. “The flag was no more the ‘source’ of horrible acts against mankind than a gun is the ‘source’ of someone’s death. The ‘source’ is the hatred and evil that resides in the hearts of some who live and have lived among us.
Thus far there have been no reports of any MS Democrats coming out in favor of the flag, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are all against it.
Ok, so we’ve got Mississippi politicians covered, but what about the citizens? There too you’ll find a divisiveness and a variety of viewpoints. The following are culled from the commenting sections of major newspapers and TV stations for three of the larger metro areas in the state (Biloxi/Gulfport, Jackson, Hattiesburg):
IN FAVOR OF KEEPING
Leave our Flag alone! You think that our vote in 2001 passed because we weren’t as progressive back then as we are now? Wrong! I would bet if the vote happened again it would go the same way. Stop taking every bit of our history away. I don’t have a “White History Month” because that is offensive. I don’t have a NCAC (National Caucasion American Caucas. If you want to see some angry American’s try taking our state flag that we voted to keep away from us.
How are people so stupid that they think banning the flag of our great state and destroy confederate monuments will stop violence and racism it’s ridiculous I think people should do some research
Political correctness run amok, there was not one slave brought to america under that flag.But millions under the american flag, black confederates actually fought under that flag. The KKK also carry bibles and the american flag. I had two uncles who fought for our state against federal imperialism, one died at Franklin,TN and one made it home. They did not have any slaves they fought for our state, the battle flag is honoring them and their sacrifice.
I agree with Governor Bryant and Mr. Marc Allen in their statements of maintaining the “vote of the people” of our great state! This flag represents “history”; which can not be reversed and should not even be considered for “yet another change”!
If people cannot accept the MS flag they would not accept us if we all joined the NAACP and started celebrating Kwanzaa . There is nothing the people of MS can do about preconceived notions of our state. The people who want to fly the Magnolia flag are still celebrating the heritage of MS. I have no beef with anyone who loves MS as it is. But I do have issues with people who screwed up their home state so badly they had to leave. Now they want to change MS to be like the place they screwed up.
IN FAVOR OF CHANGE
The Confederate Flag is a symbol that represents white supremacy and its aspirations in the South. Symbols like this aren’t the crux of the matter, but they still matter, and we have to start somewhere. So let’s CHANGE IT NOW.
This is like watching a fever break. Actual leadership. Amazing!
“The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.” - Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Wow - I thought I would never live to see this day! Finally maybe we as Mississippians can put this hated symbol to rest or at least relegate it to 150 year old battlefields and cultural museums.
Imagine that you lost your entire family in a horrible car accident, killed by a drunk driver. Then your next door neighbor buys your mangled car and puts it on blocks in the front yard where you have to look at it every day… This is how many Mississippians feel about the stars and bars. TIME TO TAKE IT DOWN. The South has already risen, and NOT because of that flag! TAKE IT DOWN!
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
It’s not a stretch to say that Mississippi will probably be the LAST state to adopt certain modern policies and positions. This is one of the reddest states in the Union, if not the reddest. You’ll find the strongest Republican leaning district in the country right here in MS. The state has also voted Republican in every General election since 1964. Though to be fair, there have been a handful of Democratic governors during that same time period.
The old racial wounds of Mississippi are still wide open in many areas.
Shocking though it may be to some, there are still certain places in this state that black people just shouldn’t go.
Old racial wounds still openWhile it may seem like it’s high time for change here, that’s going to be a hard fought and likely uphill battle.
Unlike Texas, Mississippi has no large liberal leaning urban areas to offset the more conservative rural areas. That strongest Republican district mentioned above? You’ll find it right outside Biloxi, one of the most populous areas in the state. Other areas like Jackson, Starkville (where Mississippi State University is located) and Hattiesburg (another college town) are more diverse, but on an overall basis this state is still dominated by Conservatives.
Along with Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, Mississippi is one of the strongest tried and true GOP bastions in the country.
But the battle isn’t hopeless. Alabama just took down their Confederate Flag today. That’s a move that shocked a lot of people even given the current anti-flag sentiment sweeping the country.
But what of Mississippi? 150 years later an old battle is raging again. Like before, there are entrenched combatants on both sides and like before it won’t be an easy fight to the finish.
A turning point is at hand for this state. We talk about history, we talk about symbols, We can respect history while at the same time turning away from those symbols that would be divisive.
The Confederate Flag should not be banished. It should stay in a museum just like other relics of the past who defined who we were then but do not and should not define us now.