Morgan Freeman turned the tables on me while I was interviewing him about 25 years ago.
“What should we do about the flag?” Freeman asked me. Flag? What do you mean? I said.
Oh, right. The state flag with the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy on the upper left corner.
I didn’t have a considered answer because I had only been back in Mississippi for a couple of years and had my hands full as editor of The Star-Herald in Kosciusko on local matters.
Days after the interview, part of our coverage of Mississippi’s resident megastar’s show, “An Evening With Morgan Freeman” – who happens to be black, in case you’ve never seen a movie – to raise money for the cultural center in the town, I wondered: what about the statues?
Changing the flag is one thing, but what’s next – bulldozers and cranes?
That’s a show stopper, I reckoned.
That hasn’t happened in Mississippi, but statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and President Jefferson Davis were removed from their places of prominence in New Orleans in May.
CSA statues in other states have been removed.
That was before the clash in Charlottesville, Va., in early August between marchers – white supremacists and presumably Southern traditionalists, who were marching to protest the city’s plan to remove Confederate statues – and masked anarchist thugs who wouldn’t hear of it. One person was killed in the clash.
The anarchists like to call themselves antifa, short for anti-fascists, though it could stand for anti-First Amendment, the constitutional provision that grants all Americans the right to free speech, however offensive it may be to some.
President Donald Trump, as he is wont to do, threw charcoal lighter fluid on the Charlottesville flareup, tried to tamp it down and burned his fingers.
So much for national politics.
But on Aug. 21, a resident approached the Attala County Board of Supervisors and asked its members to remove from the courthouse lawn the granite likeness of an unnamed Confederate infantryman standing atop a tall pedestal.
The board said before a standing-room-only crowd it would consider the suggestion and take it up later.
Never mind that a state law prohibits the relocation, removal or alteration of statues and monuments dedicated to the “Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, War Between the States, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, War in Iraq or Native American Wars statues, monuments, memorials or nameplates (plaques), which have been erected on public property of the state or any of its political subdivisions, such as local, municipal or county owned public areas.”
In case anyone thought there would be a simple solution.
The Star-Herald posted the story online for all to read, even those who are not subscribers to the Kosciusko weekly, just to vent the collective spleen that was transfused with blood from the veins of their forebears.
The Confederate statues were what the devastated region chose as a consolation for the 260,000 who died to defend states asserting freedom to establish themselves as an independent nation, and to maintain slavery, the reverse of freedom.
Understandably, there’s not one Confederate buried in the Vicksburg National Cemetery.
Seventeen thousand Union soldiers are interred there, including some “Colored Troops.”
There are 1,400 monuments and memorials there, all for the U.S. fallen, including one for the African-American unionists.
Had Lincoln outlived the war by more than a week, things assuredly would have been different, symbolically and literally, for the vanquished and those set free.
“Let ‘em up easy. Let ‘em up easy,” Lincoln advised one of his generals in speaking of the Confederates as the end of the four-year conflict drew near.
But no, thanks to John Wilkes Booth, the actor-assassin. And the harsher Reconstruction and backlash against it allowed the wounds of war to fester far too long, and to this day give some a cover for their racism.
So now, some see a simultaneous Uncivil War and Second Reconstruction, or, rather, Deconstruction, in the making. How silly and sad.
Others work to preserve reminders of the great fratricidal conflict. The Civil War Trust has saved more than 46,000 acres of battlefields in 23 states from slipping into oblivion, including about 3,000 in Mississippi, where, to borrow from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, so many on both sides gave “the last full measure of devotion.”
But the ongoing clash of ignorant armies is almost enough to make us Mississippians forget we have this flag that flutters and waves at us to get our attention.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1016.
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