This week, I’m so proud to be a Mississippian. I’ve rarely said that in my 30 years of life, but I’m proud of our state because we’ve done what’s right.
We’ve retired the Confederate-based state flag, which is widely viewed – and rightfully so – as a symbol of oppression.
I watched every moment of the legislative debate on this issue, and I’ve heard from all sides about it. Believe me, I’ve received my fair share of hate mail about my previous columns on this topic, but interestingly enough, none of those folks were willing to publish their thoughts in a letter to the editor.
I’ve watched as folks spewed thinly-veiled – and sometimes outright – racism and hatred on social media, and I’ve tried to understand their viewpoints. However, there’s no point in trying to understand hate. For many people, it’s been passed down through generations, and it’s not going to be defeated by bickering on Facebook and Twitter.
The flag is a controversial issue, and there’s a lot of ignorance about its origins. I’ve done my fair share of trying to educate people about the Confederate battle flag and what it means, and I’ve tried to teach people that the real purpose of the Confederacy was to defend the institution of slavery.
In return, I’ve been told that I’m ignorant of history. Believe me, I’m a lot of things, and I don’t claim to be the most intelligent person in the world. However, I’m not ignorant when it comes to Mississippi history or the history behind the Civil War. I studied it extensively in college as a history major under the tutelage of Myron Noonkester, a brilliant professor and the dean of the Noonkester School of Arts and Letters at William Carey University.
The flag is not something that’s worth defending. It’s not a badge of honor, and it’s not something to be idolized as a remnant of the “Lost Cause” or the so-called “War of Northern Aggression.” It’s a symbol of hatred, and the lawmakers who adopted in 1894 didn’t hide that fact.
Those legislators, including many direct descendants of Confederate soldiers, were able to regain political control of the state after passing a rigged and racist state constitution. This constitution effectively stripped black voters and poor white voters of their rights. It replaced another state constitution, which was adopted in 1868, that allowed black residents of the state to hold office and exercise – for the first time – political authority.
After years of occupying the South, the federal government had left Mississippi, and the period known as Reconstruction was over. Federal authorities were no longer keeping a close eye on Mississippi, and, in this vacuum, the state slipped into its old ways. A new version of slavery came about, and those lawmakers spent years building monuments and designing symbols to commemorate the failed Confederacy.
That’s how the state flag came to be. It wasn’t adopted as some great memorial to Confederate war dead. It was adopted as one more attempt to win a war that was lost years prior.
It was a last gasping breath of rebellion, and, unfortunately, we’ve allowed those hateful lungs to continue to fill with air for 126 years. It’s taken us that long to come to our senses and recognize that we don’t need a symbol of rebellion – and of hate – on our state flag, which is perhaps our most prominent symbol.
We need a flag that unites us and shows that Mississippi has made progress. Despite the keyboard warriors, I’ve seen how people have united around this issue, and I’ve seen passion in the eyes of those who want to push out hate and bring our state into the 21st century. I believe those folks outnumber the keyboard warriors and the people who are filled with hate and misconceptions about a war that ended 155 years ago.
So, yes, I’m proud of our state. I’m excited for our future. I’m thankful for the legislators who pushed the flag change forward, and I’m happy they did their jobs. They epitomized what a representative democracy should be like, and they’re to be commended.
I’m looking forward to continued progress, and I know it’s possible.
Joshua Wilson is the managing editor of The PineBelt NEWS and Signature Magazine. Write him at joshua@HubCitySPOKES.com.