Mississippi to Remove Confederate Symbol from its Flag

The Magnolia State is the last in the nation to have the stars and bars on its state banner.

“Flags Flying” by DM is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The Magnolia State is about to abandon its 126-year-old flag, which prominently features the Confederate battle flag, under the latest wave of public pressure.

WaPo (“Mississippi lawmakers pass resolution paving way to remove Confederate symbol from state flag“):

Amid ongoing national protests against racial injustice, Mississippi state lawmakers have paved the way for legislation to remove the Confederate symbol from the state flag.

On Saturday, the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Senate voted by a two-thirds majority to clear the path for a vote on a measure that would remove the current flag and replace it with a new design free of Confederate iconography.

After the votes were announced in each chamber, applause broke out. Earlier in the day, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) indicated that he will sign a bill to change the flag if one reaches his desk, a shift from his previous position that voters should decide whether to change the flag via referendum.

This move is obviously well overdue. The unofficial of my longtime home state, Alabama, was “Thank God for Mississippi.” As embarrassing as our standing in almost every measure of progress and prosperity might have been, we could almost always count on our neighbor to the west to be just a little bit worse.

Even Mississippi, however, has come to realize that literally waving the Confederate flag as the symbol of the state is holding it back.

Lawmakers on Saturday delivered impassioned speeches for and against abandoning the Confederate symbol, which has endured previous challenges and continued to draw ardent defenders who see it as an important piece of the state’s past. Many described the day in historic terms, invoking the Founding Fathers, their own family histories and future generations in explaining their votes.

Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr. (D), who is black, said that he had overcome the feelings he had seeing the flag growing up but that it represents a painful history. He said his children and now his grandchildren have had questions about what it represents and called for a flag that would stir pride in all of the state’s residents — nearly 40 percent of whom are black.

“It ought to be something that we all feel a sense of pride that when we see it, we know that that’s about us,” he said. “Not just some of us.”

House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R) also argued forcefully against keeping the flag, saying that “whether we like it or not,” it had come to be viewed as a symbol of hate.

“By changing our flag, we don’t abandon our founding principles,” he said. “We embrace them more fully by doing what is right. We’re not moving further away from our Founding Fathers’ visions. We’re moving closer to them. We’re not destroying our heritage; we’re fulfilling it.”

That’s exactly right.

Several legislators continued to argue that the fate of the flag should be left to voters.

Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), one of the most vocal opponents of the measure, described attempts to change it as part of an effort to challenge the founding values of the country, warning that the American flag was next. He said voters should be allowed to decide, adding: “I don’t see how that makes me a racist. I don’t see how that makes me a terrible human being.”

I don’t know McDaniel, much less whether he’s racist or a terrible human being. But he’s wrong.

While I don’t have Confederate ancestors, I’m a Southerner. For quite a while, I saw the flag as a symbol of Southern pride, associating it more with Lynyrd Skynyrd than with slavery. If the vast majority of Southerners saw it, as the slogan had it, as about “heritage, not hate,” then people ought accept that.

I was ultimately persuaded by a fairly simple argument by Hardy Jackson, a historian of the South at Jacksonville State: a big part of the culture is supposed to be “Southern hospitality.” If a third of your community sees your symbol of pride as an insult, it’s just damn impolite to wave it in their face.

Mississippi is the blackest state in the union, with 36.33 percent of its citizens of African descent. One imagines that the overwhelming number of them see their state’s flag as a reminder of slavery, Jim Crow, and white supremacy.

Not giving a damn about that does in fact make you a terrible human being.

Another report, from Mississippi Today (“”), contains this quote:

“I think it was a historic moment in our state and it was the right thing to do,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, who in the summer of 2015 surprised his Republican House majority caucus when he announced his support for changing the flag.

“The bottom line is the image of our state hangs in the balance,” Gunn said. “We talk about the business impact, the economic impact. All those things are real, but the bottom line is this is just the right thing to do.”

Exactly.

Actually changing the flag will take a while:

The resolution states a commission would be created to redesign the state flag. The commission would recommend a new design by Sept. 14, and voters would approve or reject that design on Nov. 3.

The design “would not include the Confederate battle flag but shall include the words ‘In God We Trust’,” the resolution stated. Should voters reject that design, the commission would present a new option during the 2021 legislative session, according to the resolution.

One could argue that adopting a flag in 2020 with “In God We Trust” is problematic, both on First Amendment grounds and as an insult to non-believers. But the slogan has been the official motto of the United States since 1956 and the courts have consistently ruled that, as a motto, it has no coercive power and amounts to mere secular deism.

Regardless, both houses of the Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature will almost certainly vote today, by overwhelming margins, to change the flag. Hopefully, a year from now, a new one will be flying across the state.

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FILED UNDER: Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JohnMcC says:

    Well, Chris McDaniel is the creepy person who snuck into a nursing home and took (and posted) pictures of Sen Thad Cochran’s wife. I forget what issue this was supposed to illustrate but the implication for his character is unforgettable. He got 16% of the primary vote, Wikipedia tells me.

  2. Jim Brown 32 says:

    I’m looking forward (after the vote today) to having this story be the headliner on my news blog.

    This, frankly, is a stunning development. Something really has changed in the American psyche. This is right next door to Black President in the “things that will never happen in my lifetime” category.

    I lived in ‘Mizzippi’ for several years in the late 80s…very beautiful people. But blinded by their trust in their political leaders and their insistence on a caste culture that had black people at the bottom. As long as they were a rung above, no one rocks the boat. The irony is, within the white caste of the State, there are a few people making all the money and the rest of the folks just needed to be glad that they can look down on “teh Blacks”. Mississippi is the first and only place where I was called a ni@@er to my face. Good for them taking this symbolic step (fingers cross) to turn the page

    16
  3. Teve says:

    The design “would not include the Confederate battle flag but shall include the words ‘In God We Trust’,” the resolution stated.

    OK, we’ll get rid of the symbol of white privilege, but you’ve at least gotta let us keep the Christian privilege.

    10
  4. CSK says:

    @JohnMcC:
    Chris McDaniel is a creep, but the jerk who took the photos of Rose Cochran was a would-be political blogger named Clayton Kelly.

    1
  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Neil Young was right all along…

    It will be interesting to watch the election on adopting the new flag, if it is rejected because it excludes the traitorous battle flag.

    2
  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Now, to get Georgia to change their racist flag… Ooopps I’m sorry, I meant “salute to heritage” flag.

    A bit of historical pedantry James. The “Stars and Bars” are not on the Mississippi flag, the Confederate battle flag is. The “Stars and Bars” is the base for the state flag of Georgia (they added the state seal just so they could say it wasn’t really the S&B)

    2
  7. charon says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The square Confederate battle flag on the Mississippi flag is the battle flag of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The rectangular ones often seen are the Second Naval Jack.

  8. charon says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I guess the reason the racists use the battle flag instead of the Stars and Bars is the same reason the Confederates abandoned using the Stars and Bars in battle – the Stars and Bars resembles the Union flag too much, causes confusion.

    1
  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @charon: From my 2nd link:

    General Beauregard designed a flag to be used in battle, but not to replace the national flag, the Stars and Bars. The Confederate battle flag, also known as the “Southern Cross”, is the most well known flag associated with the Confederacy. It was still red, white, and blue with stars, but the design was very different in order to distinguish the north from the south in the war. The battle flag also evolved as more states joined the Confederacy; there were eventually thirteen stars for each of the states on a blue cross on top of a red background. The original version of the battle flag was a square, but the Confederate Navy Jack was a rectangular version of the Confederate Battle Flag. The Confederate Navy Jack (rectangular format) is widely referred to today as simply “The Confederate Flag” despite the fact that is just one of many flags of the Confederacy.

    Yes Lee used it, but he wasn’t the only one.

    1
  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    Let’s toss a bouquet to Professor Hardy Jackson. I’ve only lived in the South for six years, but it’s the same argument I would make to a Southerner.

    1
  11. JohnMcC says:

    @CSK: Ooops! Thank you.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @charon: If I had to guess, I would say you are right.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Ah, that’s a fair point. I’m pretty sure I knew that at one point but had forgotten, as the battle flag is by far better known and frequently called “the Stars and Bars” even though it has no bars.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    I applaud this and hope it helps Mississippi. But I am skeptical of it being a fundamental change when I read this:

    The design “would not include the Confederate battle flag but shall include the words ‘In God We Trust’,

    Their initial reaction when they are forced to get rid of the flag (lest their college sports teams suffer) is to look for someone else’s eye they can stick a finger in.

    3
  15. CSK says:

    @JohnMcC:
    You’re quite welcome. I vividly recall that whole sordid business.

    McDaniel is a vulgarian on a Trumpian scale.

    1
  16. Jim Brown 32 says:

    I think this conversation would be enhanced by understanding the history of the symbology found on these flags. The Confederates did not invent St Andrew’s cross as the Nazis did not invent their heraldry. These symbols were co-opted by the founder’s of these movements for the esoteric Christian concepts they believed their movement. Keep in mind that these people saw in the Bible a directive for the white man to subjugate the world.
    My point is, rather that only fighting to cancel these symbols, it can be beneficial to re-redefine these symbols in terms of there historical meaning in antiquity. St Andrew demonstrated such humility in Service to Christ, that he refused to be crucified on the traditional shaped Cross. Hence the X. That concept is 180 degrees juxtaposed to ‘States Rights’ or any other anti-democratic concept attached to the stars and bars.

    5
  17. grumpy realist says:

    Arguing about which flag was actually used by the Confederate side in the Civil War has always seemed to me to be missing the point. We want to get rid of whatever flag was being used by the KKK and is now being used by the White Power people. (P.S. and following up on our earlier linguistics thread, I’m going to call the latter “the Pasty Pink Power People.”)

    6
  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: I got reminded of it recently (again!) when somebody somewhere was commenting on the Georgia state flag and looked it up.

    @grumpy realist: I only brought up the Stars and Bars because of the Georgia state flag, which if Mississippi’s needs to change so does it.

    1
  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “By changing our flag, we don’t abandon our founding principles,” he said. “We embrace them more fully by doing what is right. We’re not moving further away from our Founding Fathers’ visions. We’re moving closer to them. We’re not destroying our heritage; we’re fulfilling it.”

    That’s exactly right.

    I found myself wondering if the Speaker Pro Tem was being ironic. Maybe I’m too cynical at long last (but I doubt it; I still think that the problem is that it’s “hard to keep up,” as Lily Tomlin noted).

    3
  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    But the slogan has been the official motto of the United States since 1956 and the courts have consistently ruled that, as a motto, it has no coercive power and amounts to mere secular deism. [emphasis added]

    Except, of course, to the segments of our population who will not subscribe to notions of “secular deism.” On the other hand, it may be that the joke really is on them this time.

    3
  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: With all the Gods in existence, which one is it we trust? All I know, is that the one in charge of this timeline really sucks.

    2
  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s a really enjoyable feature of the Trump era that the Great White Savior and his racist cult imagined themselves strutting boldly ahead, chest out, heads high, as liberal weenies and POC fled before them. Instead Trump banged the final nail into that whole Lost Cause, the south will rise again, fantasy.

    Pity the poor race warrior polishing his gun collection while awaiting ‘the coming race war.’ The bastards are having to face the fact that it isn’t white vs. black, it’s white vs. black and white and brown and every other color. They’ve been exposed as at best a slight plurality of the very race they they would champion.

    The man lost NASCAR, FFS. He revived Kaepernick. Confederate statues and symbols are falling faster than Catholic icons in Calvin’s Geneva. SCOTUS just ensured legal rights for gays and trans. White evangelical Christians have moved from being seen as silly and backward to being viewed as dangerously stupid. Thanks to Trump people are even seriously questioning the holiest of all holies: capitalism.

    Liberal and progressive social and economic issues have taken giant leaps forward. ‘Law n’ Order’ has flipped from a positive to a negative. He’s grown a gender gap into a gender chasm. No one person in recent history has done more damage to white, male power than Donald J. Trump.

    He actually is Making America Great Again by leading his idiot culties off a cliff. MAGA!

    8
  23. Moosebreath says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    “With all the Gods in existence, which one is it we trust?”

    And do the others have to pay in cash, as the joke from my parents’ youth went.

    1
  24. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    It’s a bigger joke on them than they could comprehend, given that God is the God of Abraham, meaning he’s the God of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

    1
  25. DrDaveT says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    With all the Gods in existence, which one is it we trust?

    Mammon.

    2
  26. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I honestly would not get ahead of the game here. While a powerful statement, this is also to a healthy extent symbolic. Whatever they inevitably come up with will have to be approved by the voters, which is the real hurdle. Ostensibly until that has occurred, the flag will remain as it is, which will essentially make the vote a referendum on keeping the existing flag. It’ll certainly be characterized that way when it’s sold to the electorate. Even odds they vote to keep it.

    3
  27. charon says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Based on recent history:

    Moloch

    1
  28. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Arguing about which flag was actually used by the Confederate side in the Civil War has always seemed to me to be missing the point.

    True. But there is a certain schadenfreude in that the people who insist we honor the heritage and teach the history, can’t get the heritage and the history right.

    2
  29. An Interested Party says:

    I was ultimately persuaded by a fairly simple argument by Hardy Jackson, a historian of the South at Jacksonville State: a big part of the culture is supposed to be “Southern hospitality.” If a third of your community sees your symbol of pride as an insult, it’s just damn impolite to wave it in their face.

    Mississippi is the blackest state in the union, with 36.33 percent of its citizens of African descent. One imagines that the overwhelming number of them see their state’s flag as a reminder of slavery, Jim Crow, and white supremacy.

    Not giving a damn about that does in fact make you a terrible human being.

    The same argument can be used to remove statues of Confederate “heroes” from their pedestals and change the names of military installations that are named after Confederates…

    2
  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @DrDaveT: I don’t exactly worship Mammon, but I do make sacrifices in his/her honor.

  31. de stijl says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    If such a god did exist, evidence points to the trickster sort.

    Actually, we lead ourselves into trouble easily avoided, and down blind dead-end alleys by our ownselves all the time. No deity required.

  32. de stijl says:

    The state flags and the statues have got to go.

    No excuses. No “heritage” – that heritage is treason in defense of slavery. The Confederacy lost.