The whole confederate flag issue is pretty contentious here in Mississippi, since it is part of the state flag. Recently the eighth and last public university removed the state flag from its campus, and the backlash has been absurd. 

The pledge to the state flag encourages Mississippians to “salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign state for which is stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.”

Citizens tried but failed to have money withheld from the universities to pressure them into displaying the flag again.

Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 election, but the design has come under increased scrutiny since the June 2015 shooting deaths of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. (SunHerald)

Mississippi has a unique problem with the confederate flag, because it is embedded into the state’s flag. Racism is still a huge problem in the state, even though African-Americans now make up 38% of the population. This is the state that still celebrates Confederate Heritage Month and Robert E. Lee Day on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

The two main schools of thought are well represented below:

“The flag is not evil. Some people who used it were evil. But that doesn’t mean we should get rid of it,” said Marc Allen, spokesman for the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. His group supports keeping the flag, known in the state as the 1894 flag for the year it was introduced.

Mississippi seemed poised to act on the state flag after Speaker Gunn spoke out on the issue, saying “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed.” (CNN)

I have lived here my entire life and never heard it referred to as the “1894 flag.” A quick, unscientific poll did not net a single person within my circle who has.

Unfortunately, the charitable, understanding Christian attitude is outnumbered by the “I don’t care what you think; it’s my history, and I’m proud to be on the losing side” Confederate flag crowd. Even after the Southern Baptist Convention officially repudiated the symbol earlier this year, most Mississippians have not followed suit.

Carlos Moore, the African-American attorney who took on the state to have it removed, received countless death threats. He was ultimately unsuccessful. People here would rather see you die, or tell you, “If you don’t like it – LEAVE!” than spend a moment without their precious participation trophy. His lawsuit was dismissed in September, and attorneys for Governor Bryant have asked the federal appeals court to not reinstate it.

It is a sad day when a piece of fabric is more important than the feelings it invokes in our neighbors. The state will be 200 years old in 2017. One would think we could move on.

A new flag has been designed, but the bill failed in 2016. A renewed push is under way to have it considered. The story behind it is fascinating; it was made by the granddaughter of a famous Mississippi politician who did not support equal rights until the end of his career.

The end result: a flag that matches the red, white and blue of the United States’ flag. Its center contains 19 blue stars in a circle against a white background with a much larger star in the middle, representing Mississippi as the 20th state.
The stars are between two red vertical bars representing Mississippians’ “passionate differences” on the flag issue.

Let’s count a few things John Stennis is directly or indirectly responsible for in Mississippi, particularly during his time as chairman of the Armed Forces Committee from 1969 through 1981: Meridian Naval Air Station, one of two bases where jet fighter pilots train; Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi; Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula; the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, home to the Atlantic Fleet Seabees; Stennis Space Center in Hancock County that tested every engine used to boost U.S. astronauts to the moon. But like most Southern Democrats of his time, Stennis’ voting record supported segregation. “He wasn’t as outspoken about it as a lot of people, but he voted the way many of the people of Mississippi felt at the time,” said Sid Salter, a veteran political columnist who became friends with Stennis.
“Pawpaw and I probably wouldn’t have voted the same most of the time,” Laurin said. “He was certainly late to the party when it came to civil rights.” But in 1982, he voted in favor of extending the Voting Rights Act that prohibited racial discrimination. “I think that clearly shows his view on civil rights changed, and I believe it was a genuine transformation,” Laurin said. (ClarionLedger)

What a beautiful story of a heart changed, and what a perfect symbol for our state. I just hope we are ready for it sooner rather than later.


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