Bad for business?

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Published: February 7,2000

Is the “Rebel” flag an economic issue? If the NAACP tourism boycott of South Carolina over the use of the Confederate battle flag as the state flag succeeds in the flag being replaced, Mississippi and Georgia could become the next boycott targets.

South Carolina adopted the Confederate flag as the state flag during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s as a protest against integration, and Georgia changed its state flag to incorporate the Confederate flag in one corner during the same time period. In Mississippi, the state flag also incorporates the Confederate flag in one corner, but was adopted more than a hundred years ago — long before integration.

Whether in its original form or incorporated into one corner, and whether adopted in the 1960s or more than a hundred years ago, many African Americans see the Confederate flag as an insult, a reminder of slavery and lynchings. Many white Southerners see the Confederate Flag as an important part of their cultural history.

“There is going to be no rational solution to this,” said Dr. Neil McMillen, professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi. “Everyone has dug in on this issue. My wish is that some band of African-Americans about as militant as the Black Panthers would adopt the Confederate flag as their flag, and then the issue would go away. If everyone adopted the flag, that would be the ideal solution to this problem.”

Part of the flag argument rages over whether slavery was the root cause of the Civil War. McMillen said while it is not accurate to suggest that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, that doesn’t mean everyone who fought for the Confederacy was in favor of slavery or owned slaves.

“Without slavery, the Civil War would never have developed,” McMillen said. “In the end, the Confederate flag became the symbol of a slave nation. Spin it any way you want about heritage, but fundamentally slavery is at the center of the issue.”

McMillen said the flag issue may symbolize how much of the world sees Mississippi.

“I think if neo-Confederates dig in and make the Confederate flag the center of Mississippi’s identity, that can’t help us,” McMillen said. “But most adults say, ‘Good grief. That happened a long time ago. Let’s move on.’ I personally would not expend a lot of energy either raising the Confederate flag or burning it. I would just ignore it. That’s why I say adults, big people, probably roll their eyes when they see how much passion is generated by this piece of cloth.”

Dr. Alferdteen Harrison, a history professor at Jackson State University, agrees the flag issue should be laid to rest.

“I think we should let it be a part of the past,” Harrison said. “We need to move forward. The flag represents negative things to African Americans such as slavery and lynchings. It is just a symbol of those kinds of things.”

Harrison said she believes the continuing use of the Confederate flag as a symbol reflects badly on Mississippi and other Southern states.

“There is no solution except to just let it go,” she said. “We need to move to something that doesn’t bring such negative reactions.”

Another history professor in Mississippi, this one a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says of the Confederate battle flag: “Keep it flying.”

Dr. William Scarborough, a professor of history at USM, said it is time to draw a line in the sand. Scarborough points out that many counties, schools and army bases in the state and throughout the South are named for Civil War heros. If South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi change their state flags, as is being considered, Scarborough wonders if the next effort will be to change the name of Forrest County, which is named after a Confederate war hero, and all other counties, schools and army bases named after Confederate War heros.

“What angers me and many others about all these campaigns against the Confederate flag is that there is a concerted effort by the NAACP and other black organizations to denigrate everything associated with the Confederacy,” Scarborough said. “A lot of us resent that. We don’t feel the Confederacy is anything to apologize for or be ashamed of. I am a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, and had an ancestor killed at Gettysburg. For 100 years Southerners and Northerners — everyone — has been riveted by this heroic fight of the Southerners to defend their homes, forests and families for four years against overwhelming odds. That is something we are proud about. We don’t apologize.

“If people are offended by these symbols, that is too bad. I’m offended by the fact that Martin Luther King is the only single American who is honored by having his birthday as a national holiday.

“There is no separate holiday for Lincoln, Washington or anyone else. So if the NAACP and their cohorts want to honor King, that’s fine. But we are going to honor our heritage, too, and I’m getting sick of these attacks on the flag whether one flying over South Carolina, or the Georgia and Mississippi flags that incorporate the Confederate flag. Where does it end? Are we going to tear down the Jefferson Memorial because he owned 200 slaves?”

Scarborough argues that the Confederate flag no more represents slavery than the U.S. flag since there was actually slavery longer under it.

His final comment is that the Northerners, for the most part the ones who were killed in the Civil War, have never objected to Dixie or Confederate flag.

“They didn’t have a problem with it and they lost hundreds of thousands of men fighting against the flag,” he said. “But here we have a politically-correct bureau, and anything associated with the Confederacy is considered anathema. That’s why I draw a line in South Carolina. I say, ‘Keep it flying.’”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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