By: Sid Salter
It has been my experience over some 40 years of writing about public policy in Mississippi that we as a people are slow to change, even when embracing change would be to our certain benefit and obstinance about doing so is to our undeniable detriment.
There is no greater manifestation of that than our stubborn insistence on clinging to the state’s 1894 Reconstruction Era state flag – which features in the canton corner the Beauregard Battle Flag (also known as the Confederate Battle Flag, the Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the Rebel Flag; used by some Mississippi troops in battle) – according to a 2018 Mississippi Historical Society article on the Mississippi flag by Millsaps College historian Stephanie Rolph.
I support changing the state flag, as I supported that position in the unsuccessful effort to change the state flag in 2001.
The enduring American civil and human rights conflagration that saw yet another flashpoint with the recent videotaped murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has focused attention yet again on Mississippi’s status as the last American state flag to feature the Confederate Battle Flag as a component.
But let’s set aside the purely moral and philosophical arguments for a moment, if that is even possible with passions running high. While those remain the fundamental points of debate, there are certainly others.
In a time of political extremes on the left and the right, Mississippi’s lone wolf, outlier status on the content of our state flag has increasingly become an impediment to our state’s future economic growth and development as more and more companies seek to avoid the public relations collateral damage of investing in Mississippi because of the flag’s symbolism.
In other words, we are hanging an albatross around the necks of our grandchildren so some of us can continue to feel good about our two- or three-times great-grandfathers. I have ancestors in that number. I don’t think they would want their progeny to suffer for their 1861 political views.
The current state flag did not fly over Mississippi during the Civil War but was a product of Reconstruction Era efforts to turn back the clock on the state’s at that point meager racial progress through Jim Crow laws.
Changing our state flag won’t fill one hungry belly, convert one rabid racist, improve standardized test scores in our schools, and won’t necessarily improve race relations in this state in the short term. It’s just a flag. To most folks, it’s not even relevant to their daily lives.
But to Mississippi’s 39 percent black minority population, the current state flag is a symbol of the violence and suffering endured by their ancestors. Increasingly, the rest of America – corporations, institutions, organizations, other states, and influencers – has decided to impose economic sanctions on states that refuse to remove such symbols from their state flags.
Mississippians can like that or lump that, but it’s the hard reality. Mississippi’s outlier status on the flag will continue to impact the economic futures of our children and grandchildren. Georgia and South Carolina citizens faced those issues with their flags after the 2001 flag referendum in Mississippi.
The NCAA and the Southeastern Conference are but the latest examples. But let’s be clear – I don’t want a new state flag because of the NCAA or the SEC. I want it so my children and grandchildren can live in a Mississippi focused on the future, not the past.
So often in our past, Mississippians have had a chance to stand up and do the right thing on racial issues and so many times, we’ve failed to answer the call to our detriment. Business leaders, religious leaders, educators, government officials, professionals and a host of other diverse Mississippi groups are now urging adoption of a new flag.
Let’s stop kicking this rusty can down the political road. It’s time to put our future ahead of our past. It’s time to raise a new flag that we all can look to with pride and move on.