Confederate Symbol in the Mississippi State Flag
How does a symbol of oppression still exist in our society today over 150 years after the Civil War?
November 27, 2017
The Confederate flag has been a symbol of hate and oppression since the Civil War era. Not only was it a large symbol during the Civil War, but it had a huge resurgence in the 40s and 50s to protest the Civil Rights Movement. Many states have removed this symbol from their government buildings and flags. However, one state has not yet removed this hateful symbol from their flag. Mississippi.
Recently, the Ms. Print writers had the opportunity to send a citizen journalist, Carolyn Campbell, anywhere in the country to ask anything we wanted. She has met with numerous groups from Portland asking them to also send her somewhere in the country with questions to ask. She is documenting her adventure through her blog, Looking for America. As a group, we were very interested in sexism in the South, specifically Mississippi, but something that kept coming up in our class discussions was the issue of the Confederate flag in the Mississippi state flag. Many people in Mississippi dislike the flag. An African-American club owner who was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, but wanted to stay unnamed told Campbell, “Any flag or any symbol of anything if it contains something that people find offensive especially with the background of Mississippi, the race—black and white—animosity that is still here today, should be removed.” However, many people are also resistant to ditch the flag citing that the flag represents the heritage of the state. The flag was created during the Civil War to promote the secession of the South, but now is a reminder of their rebellious and treasonous past against patriotism and nationalism. On top of this, many supporters claim they want to remember their heritage, but they are still not supporting hate. But, Matthew Guterl, a professor at Brown University teaching Africana and American studies says, “When someone says it’s about history, well, that particular history is inseparable from hate, because it is about hate. It’s about racism, and it’s about slavery.”
On a contrary point, another man, African-American, but unnamed, Carolyn Campbell interviewed said, “the more liberal we are with our kids, the less they take the responsibility, and move the bar ahead. To me the flag is something that will maybe bring them around to what the reality is. […] You try to take that negativity that the flag represents and try to motivate your young people to want to do more.”
Nevertheless, there are more liberal cities in Mississippi such as Tupelo, Mississippi. A white, business owner, named Amanda Hayden, says, “I am very upset that our state flag has continued to be the state flag for so long, as offensive as it is and as much pain as it causes such a large population of our state. We do have several people in the city that understand why the flag needs to change. Our police department, which I’m very proud to say, does not fly the flag because they would like to keep a better relationship with the people in the city. Our city hall, however, does fly the flag because the state still allows them to do that.”
According to WTOP, both Mississippi Republican U.S. senators, Thad Chochran and Roger Wicker want to move the flag to a museum and have a new design for the official state flag adopted. However this was met with hostility because citizens felt that their heritage was being infringed upon. Also, state Representative David Baria, a Democrat, says a new design should be created, but should not be needed by a statewide election. He says, “My proposal is that the Legislature just man up and do it. I think that the tide is changing.”
If many people in Mississippi feel offended by the flag and its history as a symbol of oppression, why does it still fly from the statehouses? According to WTOP, a source of Washington’s top news, Governor Phil Bryant, Republican, says a new design of the flag must be determined by a state election. However, a statewide election for a new flag design has not been done since 2001 when two-thirds of Mississippians voted to keep the flag. According to the New York Times, many cited that they chose to keep the flag for heritage purposes. They did not believe the counter argument that the flag was hurting Mississippi’s economy by the flag discouraging tourism and company relocation. The New York Times also cites that blacks only represent about a third of the votes in the electorate, and many counties in the prominently black Delta area voted strongly for the new design while the prominently white suburban counties voted against the new design.
So how is this relevant to us now other than obvious racism and oppression? In the news lately, there has been tension and arguments over Confederate statues that still litter the South today. Many people say it is for heritage reasons that we should keep the statues, much like the people who think Mississippi should keep the flag for heritage purposes. However, the majority of people saying these things are in the power position. Their ancestors, if not them themselves, were the ones doing the oppressing. The point is that these symbols of hate are offensive to our African-American community, and should not be allowed to be presented, heritage or not.
So, what do you think? Should Mississippi adopt a new flag, and ditch a symbol that represents racism and oppression? Or should they stick with their heritage and keep the flag?