We do not discount the heartfelt meaning, often out of respect for their ancestors, that the current flag holds for many Mississippians who have known no other. However, we must not discount that particularly for many of our state’s black citizens it as a symbol of oppression and reflective of a time when their ancestors were denied the rights promised to all by America’s founding ideals.
Unlike what we see in cities across America, Mississippians are not looting, rioting, or destroying property, private or public. There are no rage-filled authoritarian mobs toppling statues and desecrating buildings. Instead, church leaders, business owners, elected officials, and private citizens have peacefully marched together and are deeply engaged in thoughtful and productive debate/conversation. It’s a model the nation should copy. If we love and empathize with our fellow man, we lend an ear to his perspective, even in disagreement, and we don’t assume evil motives. If we have to scream or demean to engage, it is likely that our argument is lacking in merit and in empathy.
It should be noted that we don’t come to this view because of the economic pressures applied by corporations, sports conferences, and celebrities. In fact, we believe denying economic benefits to athletes, local communities, entrepreneurs, and workers in order to achieve a political victory is counter to representative government and a dangerous way to make law. The citizens of Mississippi did not elect sports commissioners or corporate CEOs, but we did elect 52 Senators and 122 Representatives in a state of only three million people who are charged to represent us and who are authorized to act now in a bold and meaningful way, while still including the citizens of Mississippi in the process.
Our state legislature is empowered to take the first step now; to take down the current flag and then allow the citizens of Mississippi to engage in a process to determine exactly what should replace it. We could go without a state flag until that process is completed or we could simply replace the symbol of the Confederate Battle flag with the state’s official seal and motto as an interim step.
There has been a significant swing in public sentiment in Mississippi on this issue, too. It’s not just Jackson’s elite, university leaders, and the economic development leaders who favor removing the current flag. A public opinion poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group last week, found 55 percent of voters favored changing the flag, which is a significant change from the results in 2019 when 54 percent of voters favored keeping the current flag. When asked about changing to a flag that includes the state seal and the motto, support for the change jumped to 72 percent. Of note, the survey showed support from a majority of both black and white Mississippians.
Although Mississippi, like other states, has a dark history of unequal treatment of some of its citizens, it’s also a place that has made remarkable progress over the last half century. The contributions of black and white Mississippians to music, literature, sports, politics, and visual arts are legendary. Our place as America’s most religious state, and one of its most generous, is well-earned.
From Ocean Springs to Tupelo, from Oxford to Laurel, and from Starkville to Natchez, Mississippi often defines what it is to be Southern and what it is to be American. James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Jimmy Buffett, Elvis Presley, Leontyne Price, Bo Diddly, Oprah Winfrey, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham, Donna Tartt, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Brett Favre, and Archie Manning are just some of the gifts Mississippi has given to the nation.
There is much to be proud of in Mississippi, America’s “Hospitality State.” We can honor that name by removing a flag that doesn’t represent all of our citizens. We won’t do so because powerful outsiders tell us to. We will do it because we love our neighbors enough to give up a symbol that stirs the hearts of some for one that doesn’t pain the hearts of others. We’re not suggesting we destroy the symbols or monuments of our shared history.
Rather, let’s honor all of our ancestors by leaning together into a future that delivers on the promise of one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. All of America could benefit from such a show of unity.