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Analysis: Mississippi flag a potent election-year issue

 

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

On a sidewalk outside the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion on a hot summer’s evening, an interracial group of about 80 people prayed for state leaders to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.

The Rev. Rosie Jackson of Covington County, with the South Mississippi Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, called the flag a divisive symbol that represents the worst parts of the state’s history — slavery, segregation and the violent backlash to the civil rights movement.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant was nowhere in sight, but Jackson quoted from his inaugural speech: “‘I call on every Mississippian, no matter what our race or region or party, to rise above our petty differences and build together the Mississippi our citizens deserve.'”

As some in the crowd fanned themselves, Jackson added: “I want the governor to remember his quote. I want the governor to put his team together … and lead us.”

This interfaith gathering was one of several prayer vigils that have been held outside the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson since the June 17 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The white man charged in what police said was a racially motivated attack had posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos posted online before the shootings, and that has sharpened the debate over the public display of Old South symbols.

South Carolina legislators responded, weeks after the massacre, by removing a Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol grounds in Columbia.

In Mississippi, change won’t come quickly — and it might not come at all.

Five days after the Charleston attack, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called for removal of the Confederate emblem that has been on the state flag since 1894. Republican Gunn, a leader in his local Baptist church, cited his faith and said: “I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed.”

In response, people who support the banner have been distributing yard signs with the slogan: “Keep the Flag. Change the Speaker.” The effort is led former Yazoo City Mayor Jeppie Barbour, a brother of Republican former Gov. Haley Barbour.

The signs are nearly identical to ones that dotted roadsides during the 2003 gubernatorial race, when Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, unseated one-term Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Back then, the slogan was: “Keep the Flag. Change the Governor.”

In 2003, there was no “paid for by” disclaimer on the signs, and a Haley Barbour spokesman said his campaign hadn’t funded the effort. The current signs also lack the payment disclosure.

Musgrove was governor when the state Supreme Court ruled in May 2000 that the state flag had no legal status because when Mississippi laws were updated in 1906, sections covering the banner were not carried forward. Musgrove appointed a commission that held contentious public hearings about the flag in the fall of 2000. Then, in a statewide election in the spring of 2001, voters decided by a nearly 2-to-1 margin to keep the Confederate emblem on the flag.

Current Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, have said if the flag design is reconsidered, it should be done by voters rather than by legislators.

Bryant says he won’t call a special session on the flag. With elections this fall, the Legislature that convenes in January will have newcomers and incumbents. Will they redesign flag, put the issue to a statewide vote, or ignore it altogether? The Rev. Jackson and friends are praying change is going to come, but Jeppie Barbour and company are pushing to keep Mississippi as the only state with a flag that still includes the rebel emblem.

» Emily Wagster Pettus writes for the Associated Press in Mississippi.

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7 comments

  1. I cannot see why everyone is so worked up about. Yes, this is a battle flag. But so are the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, even our National Flag that we fly so proudly today. Are we going to make our Armed Forces remove their flags also? yes, don’t forget our National Flag too. I am not a racist, The Civil War did take place, if you look you will find black Confederate Soldiers as well as Union Soldiers. There was Northern Slaves as well as Sothern. Look at the way Lincoln done his best to destroy the South. He had Union Troops burning our crops to try and starve us out, raided Southern homes robbing the homes, raping the women then killing the women, children, and elderly, while they burned their homes. At the same time, the Confederate Troops focused on Union Troops as their target, not the families, or the homes. What about the Japanese that have their flags in restaurants after killing hundreds at Pearl Harbor 12/7/1941. What about the flags of the Revolutionary War. We don’t say anything to the British about displaying their flag here. Don’t forget The Spanish American War. The Spanish fly their flag in the United States. I could go on and on. Do we just remove all flags? I am from the South. The Rebel Flag is a Part of OUR HERITAGE! That does not mean we hate. The only racist people there are, is the people who are trying to remove a part of our Heritage not only from the South, but all of the United States.

  2. Gene — since you asked:

    Unlike our national flag, there is no “our” Confederate flag. The Confederate flag existed for the sole purpose of continuing slavery. The national flag of our country represents all of us, not just those that are proud of slavery, rape, human bondage and jim crow. Our nations flag represents the role our country has played in the perpetuation of slavery, among other evil acts, AND the change it has embraced since. The Confederate flag does not represent these changes. In fact, it’s sole purpose is to symbolize the rejection of those changes. So, yes, the Confederate flag is part of *your* heritage…but only the parts that are disgusting, shameful and morally heinous — things about which you should not be, but evidently are, quite proud.

    It’s interesting that you focus on the Civil War, but don’t seem to know your history of when the Confederate Flag actually became a popular symbol in the South. It really wasn’t used much after the civil war, but exploded into popularity in 1948 — when Eisenhower integrated the military. Why? Because racism, Gene. Because racism. That is what the Confederate flag has stood for ever since. And that IS what you stand for today, Gene.

    Your claim that Northern Troops were somehow more hostile, or ruthless, or callous than Southern Troops is grossly unfounded and represents an extreme reinvention of history. As for your claim that blacks served in the Confederate Army – for sure – many were forced to serve as workers, farmers and cooks — their master’s contribution to the war. It’s at least plausible that some unknown few black men perhaps supported the South’s war effort to maintain their own status as slaves. Of course, it’s also true that some blacks voted against Obama, twice… some jews supported the Nazi’s…and all of this is to say: what’s your point? There will always be outliers in every group. How does that make moral the intentional hurting of others?

    And that is what we are talking about, Gene. Intentionally and knowingly hurting others w/o any good cause. FACT: our state can easily find a flag design that represents everyone, doesn’t hurt anyone, AND communicates those parts of our heritage that are good, loving, hospitable, noble and moral. The Confederate Flag stands not only for the opposite of each of these things, it beckons back to a time when men in uniform did too…when men in hoods were not condemned, but revered…when Jim Crow was the last authority… For many many many more blacks, jews and other minorities… for many more of them than not, the Confederate Flag is a declaration of war against their basic identity, equality and humanity.

    If in response to this, your immediate, knee-jerk reaction is to simply say “So what?” “What about MY feelings on the subject? Don’t they count?” “I’m tired of people being offended. Maybe some people NEED to be offended!” or some other pessimistic, angry thought along these lines…

    Consider: love is the act of making OTHERS count. love is the act of making other’s needs, feelings and dreams…count. If you feel angry…ff you feel callous toward the feelings of others…if you feel like offending people or hurting people on purpose and without regret or concern for how it will effect them… if you feel angry and cheated, hostile to the very notion of demonstrating to those hurt by this that you care…that you can, so you will, do something about it…then, Gene, I submit to you that those emotions — all of them, are exactly the emotions this symbol is designed to invoke in you. They are the emotions from which it was forged, and as long as you allow this symbol to rule over your thoughts and feelings… it will rule over your actions.

    Symbols are power things. Consider that these words I type are merely symbols to which you attach learned meaning. Symbols like these have the power to make people think certain things, feel certain ways and do certain things. Indeed, no one questions Shakespeare when he counsels “The pen is mightier than the sword.” We know in our hearts and from hard fought experience that a pen can write symbols in the form of mere words, and those symbols can put more humans to death than any number of swords…or it can bring to those same men peace… it can enslave them, or set them free. Few question the power of the symbols found in the Bible, or the power of the Cross. Most Mississippians believe that those symbols can change the way a man thinks, how he feels and how he acts…for the better.

    Symbols are so powerful that we have developed an entire body of law around their protection — trademark law. Indeed, every successful company on Earth spends incredible energy developing and protecting it’s trademarks. So powerful are these symbols, that court’s have recognized their ability to make people think a certain way, feel certain things and do specific things. So obvious is the power of such symbols that almost any college student can reenact that famous scene from Futurama which seeks to parody how people behave when you slap an Apple logo on something, no matter how overpriced: “Shut up and take my money!”

    The Confederate flag is a symbol. It communicates something reprehensible and threatening. Why is it so necessary to you, Gene, to communicate something like that to your fellow Mississippians?

    As a person who claims to not be racist, why aren’t you more concerned about how you communicate who you are, what you’re really about, etc? How could a person who proclaims to not be racist be so obviously less concerned with how most black people feel than how mostly only white people feel?

    Does it even matter if you’re own special story about what the Confederate Flag “secretly” means is true? Can’t you get your story and message out just fine while waiving a different flag? Sure you can, Gene. Sure you can. Just let Love be your highest goal.

    A friend. ~j

    PS – here’s a great place to read up on the Confederate Flag:

    http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/06/the_confederate_flag_everything_you_need_to_know.html

    • This is the best explanation or summation I have read regarding the flag. Unfortunately some people, especially those in Mississippi want to live in the past. This is why the state is always last and the laughing stock of the country. It’s amazing that they so forcefully hang on to stupid. I guarantee you that this will change. We’re gonna have to drag them into the 21st century.

  3. Gene — since you asked:

    Unlike our national flag, there is no “our” Confederate flag. The Confederate flag existed for the sole purpose of continuing slavery. The national flag of our country represents all of us, not just those that are proud of slavery, rape, human bondage and jim crow. Our nations flag represents the role our country has played in the perpetuation of slavery, among other evil acts, AND the change it has embraced since. The Confederate flag does not represent these changes. In fact, it’s sole purpose is to symbolize the rejection of those changes. So, yes, the Confederate flag is part of *your* heritage…but only the parts that are disgusting, shameful and morally heinous — things about which you should not be, but evidently are, quite proud.

    It’s interesting that you focus on the Civil War, but don’t seem to know your history of when the Confederate Flag actually became a popular symbol in the South. It really wasn’t used much after the civil war, but exploded into popularity in 1948 — when Eisenhower integrated the military. Why? Because racism, Gene. Because racism. That is what the Confederate flag has stood for ever since. And that IS what you stand for today, Gene.

    Your claim that Northern Troops were somehow more hostile, or ruthless, or callous than Southern Troops is grossly unfounded and represents an extreme reinvention of history. As for your claim that blacks served in the Confederate Army – for sure – many were forced to serve as workers, farmers and cooks — their master’s contribution to the war. It’s at least plausible that some unknown few black men perhaps supported the South’s war effort to maintain their own status as slaves. Of course, it’s also true that some blacks voted against Obama, twice… some jews supported the Nazi’s…and all of this is to say: what’s your point? There will always be outliers in every group. How does that make moral the intentional hurting of others?

    And that is what we are talking about, Gene. Intentionally and knowingly hurting others w/o any good cause. FACT: our state can easily find a flag design that represents everyone, doesn’t hurt anyone, AND communicates those parts of our heritage that are good, loving, hospitable, noble and moral. The Confederate Flag stands not only for the opposite of each of these things, it beckons back to a time when men in uniform did too…when men in hoods were not condemned, but revered…when Jim Crow was the last authority… For many many many more blacks, jews and other minorities… for many more of them than not, the Confederate Flag is a declaration of war against their basic identity, equality and humanity.

    If in response to this, your immediate, knee-jerk reaction is to simply say “So what?” “What about MY feelings on the subject? Don’t they count?” “I’m tired of people being offended. Maybe some people NEED to be offended!” or some other pessimistic, angry thought along these lines…

    Consider: love is the act of making OTHERS count. Love is the act of making other’s needs, feelings and dreams…count. If you feel angry…if you feel callous toward the feelings of others…if you feel like offending people or hurting people on purpose and without regret or concern for how it will effect them… if you feel angry and cheated, hostile to the very notion of demonstrating to those hurt by this that you care…that you can, so you will, do something about it…then, Gene, I submit to you that those emotions — all of them, are exactly the emotions this symbol is designed to invoke in you. They are the emotions from which it was forged, and as long as you allow this symbol to rule over your thoughts and feelings… it will rule over your actions.

    Symbols are powerful things. Consider that these words I type are merely symbols to which you attach learned meaning. Symbols like these have the power to make people think certain things, feel certain ways and do certain things. Indeed, no one questions Shakespeare when he counsels “The pen is mightier than the sword.” We know in our hearts and from hard fought experience that a pen can write symbols in the form of mere words, and those symbols can put more humans to death than any number of swords…or it can bring to those same men peace… it can enslave them, or set them free. Few question the power of the symbols found in the Bible, or the power of the Cross. Most Mississippians believe that those symbols can change the way a man thinks, how he feels and how he acts…for the better.

    Symbols are so powerful that we have developed an entire body of law around their protection — trademark law. Indeed, every successful company on Earth spends incredible energy developing and protecting it’s trademarks. So powerful are these symbols, that court’s have recognized their ability to make people think a certain way, feel certain things and do specific things. So obvious is the power of such symbols that almost any college student can reenact that famous scene from Futurama which seeks to parody how people behave when you slap an Apple logo on something, no matter how overpriced: “Shut up and take my money!”

    The Confederate flag is a symbol. It communicates something reprehensible and threatening. Why is it so necessary to you, Gene, to communicate something like that to your fellow Mississippians?

    As a person who claims to not be racist, why aren’t you more concerned about how you communicate who you are, what you’re really about, etc? How could a person who proclaims to not be racist be so obviously less concerned with how most black people feel than how mostly only white people feel?

    Does it even matter if you’re own special story about what the Confederate Flag “secretly” means is true? Can’t you get your story and message out just fine while waiving a different flag? Sure you can, Gene. Sure you can. Just let Love be your highest goal.

    A friend. ~j

    PS – here’s a great place to read up on the Confederate Flag:

    http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/06/the_confederate_flag_everything_you_need_to_know.html

    • Josh….You must have never served in a branch of the Armed Services? Do you even know the definition of a Veteran? I do not know where you are getting your information. Go to the Library and get a book on the Civil War and also on Abraham Lincoln. You can find anything on the internet to suit the way you believe. That’s why I say “Go to the books”. First, you are terribly misinformed about the Confederate and the Union troops. But first let’s look at Lincoln, he did not only want to defeat the South. He wanted to decimate the South. It was Lincoln who sent the word down from his Generals not to leave them crippled, but destroy the South. It was Lincoln who sent word down the chain of command to destroy the rail lines, blockade the ports, burn their crops and fields, loot and burn their homes, rape the women, assassinating the elderly, women, and children…..Yes Josh…..There was black Confederate soldiers along with the Union. I think you may have assumed events that never happened. If black Confederate who were fighting against the North, they were not changed together as you might think. Do you think for 1 minute giving slaves a rifle, why did they not turn against the South or simply run away? You have missed the point too that many Sothern slaves came back to what was left of their homes and lived on the very plantation a freed slave. You miss the fact that the North had slaves also. Now…back to the flag. Another fact that you have been misinformed, the Mississippi State Flag has flown exactly the way it is today since 1894…..That is 121 years. It is not racist, I have nothing against blacks. Some of my closest friends are black. I have spoke to some of them about this issue, they said they have no problem with the Confederate flag nor the Mississippi flag. In fact three of them said that if the people would devote the time and money to help the needy, homeless, elderly, and the unemployed. You know they was absolutely right . As for the history….Josh…..turn your computer, I-pad, lap top, telephone off and go to the library. It is not hate but heritage. You would find it hard to understand unless you have served in a branch of our Armed Services being a Veteran.

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