Mississippi House and Senate bills that would change the state’s current flag, which contains the Confederate battle flag, all died this past Tuesday due to not having enough support.
Various proposals on file included taking submissions for flag ideas from colleges and universities, reinstating the previous Magnolia Tree flag and having two separate-but-equal state flags. House Bill 1551 would have changed the flag to the Bonnie Blue Flag, which is an unofficial symbol of Confederacy. But none of these measures will be implemented.
While some ideas may have been plausible, according to Rep. Jason White (R), “we don’t have a consensus on any of them,” the Associated Press reported.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has previously said he had no intention of fighting to change the flag due to a 2001 vote that showed support to keep the flag the same.
“A vast majority of Mississippians voted to keep the state’s flag,” he said at the time, “and I don’t believe the Mississippi Legislature will act to supersede the will of the people on the issue.”
The fact that such a vote passed at first seems odd, given that Mississippi is 37 percent Black — the highest in the country. But the slanted results come from strict voter ID laws that make it significantly more difficult for Black Mississippians to register to vote. The state, which was ultimately charged with voter intimidation and suppression, previously used poll taxes and literacy tests to try and keep Black residents from voting.
A more inclusive vote may not see the same results. Last week a rally took place protesting the flag. Sharon Brown, director of the group that organized the rally, One Flag for All, said, “We can’t achieve our social and economic potential as a state when we have a banner that includes a symbol associated with a civil war that was fought to keep our ancestors in slavery and the legacy of white supremacy and racism.”
However, that legacy continues to be recognized in a big way in the state: also this month, Bryant declared April to be “Confederate Heritage Month.” The document is written on an official governor letterhead and reads, in part, “… whereas, it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned from yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities which lie before us …”
In a statement to the Times-Picayune, Clay Chandler, director of communications for the governor, said, “Like his predecessors — both Republican and Democrat — who issued similar proclamations, Gov. Bryant believes Mississippi’s history deserves study and reflection, no matter how unpleasant or complicated parts of it may be. Like the proclamation says, gaining insight from our mistakes and successes will help us move forward.”
The proclamation appears on the homepage of the Mississippi chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ (SCV) website. The SCV describes itself as “the direct heir of the United Confederate Veterans, and the oldest hereditary organization for male descendants of Confederate soldiers”; “all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces” are eligible to join.
However, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) wrote in 2011 that the group’s ideologies may be leaning less towards history and more towards hate: “For much of the last decade, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) has been roiled by an internal civil war between racial extremists and those who want to keep the Southern heritage group a kind of history and genealogy club.”
The SPLC reported that the group drew comparisons between President Abraham Lincoln invading the South to free the slaves to Adolf Hitler invading France and also wanted to implement state license plates that honored Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a known slave trader and the Ku Klux Klan’s (KKK) first national leader.
Confederate Debate in Recent Years
Confederate symbols and their place in today’s society became a topic of intense debate all over the country last year. In June 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine Black parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Pictures surfaced of Roof, who confessed to authorities his desire to start a “race war,” with Confederate flags and memorabilia. This posed the question of what the Confederate flag and Confederate symbols represent — racism, hatred and slavery, or the South’s legacy, as Confederate defenders consistently say.
Other states — including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — also recognize a Confederate History Month. Virginia was among these states until 2010. State Gov. Bob McDonnell issued his own proclamation of the holiday but faced immediate controversy because he made no acknowledgment of slavery. (In comparison, Alabama’s 2010 proclamation pointed to slavery as “one of the causes of the war, [and] an issue in the war.”)
With a promise to not sign such a proclamation for the remainder of his term as governor, he released an apology: “The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation.”
However, even in 2010 Mississippi held similar views. Then Gov. Haley Barbour said that the backlash McDonnell received is just people “trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn’t matter for diddly.”