This is sadly true of our current State Flag, the so-called “1894 Flag” which incorporates the Confederate Battle flag. It was adopted in a time when efforts were being made to exclude Black people from voting in our state and when occurrences of lynching were frequent. And it became symbolic of our State’s opposition to equal civil rights for our fellow Black citizens. So, here is the situation. The Mississippi Code says that the “The pledge of allegiance to the Mississippi flag shall be taught in the public schools of this state” and asks our students to say: “I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.”
Duncan concludes that to ask nearly half of the state’s population to salute a symbol “that has (undeniably) been used for well over a century to indicate their own Country’s and State’s rejection of their humanity and equality” is “utterly unconscionable.”
So what does all of this have to do with Robert E. Lee? Duncan points to Douglas Southall Freeman’s biography of the Confederate General when he says the philosophy Lee lived by was found in Scripture: “Had his life been epitomized in one sentence of the Book he read so often, it would have been in the words, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.’” By including this information, Duncan implies that for those who want to follow the example of Lee in this situation (as paradoxical as it may seem to some), changing the Mississippi flag is necessary.
Echoing much of Duncan’s reasoning behind the need to change the flag, ERLC president Russell Moore (a Mississippi native), wrote:
The Confederate emblem on the Mississippi flag was a way of enshrining who belonged, and who counted, as Mississippian—and who did not. To fly that flag required, at best, a willful suspension of thought about what the Confederate battle flag represented: an ideology based on the belief that one group of human beings could purport to kidnap, enslave, persecute and terrorize another group of people made in the image of God. This symbolism was not employed solely during the Civil War, but far outlasted it, serving in the state-sponsored terrorism of Jim Crow, the burning of crosses on the front lawns of gospel preachers, the midnight murders of civil rights activists.
Moore goes on to counter an argument for keeping the flag as it is. While some may say changing the flag would be akin to forgetting history or trying to act in a politically correct manner in these current times of racial tensions, Moore believes the current Mississippi flag with the Confederate symbol does exactly that. “The old flag was itself not about remembering history, but about forgetting it. The flag told us to ‘remember’ a retrofitted story about the Mississippi of the Old South, while not mentioning the rape of enslaved women, the beating of enslaved men, or, later, the murder of Medgar Evers and imprisonment of Fannie Lou Hamer during the civil rights era, the killing of Emmett Till, and on and on,” Moore concludes.
New Mississippi Flag Must Include the Words ‘In God We Trust’
Changing the flag is exactly what the Mississippi House and Senate have decided to do. House Bill 1796 passed Sunday, June 28, 2020, with a vote of 91-23. In the Senate, it passed with a vote of 37-14. The bill stipulates the current flag must be removed within 15 days of the bill’s passing, and the new flag must not include the Confederate emblem. A commission to redesign the flag will be tasked with hearing from the public about the flag design and presenting a proposal to the state legislature and governor by September 14, 2020.
Then, during the November election, Mississippians will have the chance to vote on the design the commission comes up with. One thing about the design seems to be certain, though, House Bill 1796 stipulates the flag must contain the words “In God We Trust.”
Change is happening. And, considering the fact that two high-ranking state officials asked a pastor to give his opinion on the flag, this change came about at least in part due to the influence of the church. Indeed, Adam Ganucheau, the editor-in-chief of Mississippi News Today, noted that pressure from key groups like the NCAA (National Collegiate Athlete Association) and the Baptist Convention was “huge” in tipping the legislature’s decision to change the flag.
What was the tipping point? NCAA and SEC was huge, as was Baptist Convention.
Lots of Mississippi business pressure. Key CEOs spoke up at the right time. The MS Economic Council rallied all their members and boosted very well.
And key #msleg leaders stepped up.
— Adam Ganucheau (@GanucheauAdam) June 29, 2020
Now that the House and Senate have approved changing the Mississippi flag, the bill moves to Governor Tate Reeves’ desk. Reeves has already indicated he would sign the bill into law.
Duncan, who was present at the state capitol while the vote was taking place, expressed his gratitude for some of the politicians who were instrumental in bringing about the vote.
It’s done. Thankful for @PhilipGunnMS & @MSHouseOfRep, and @DelbertHosemann & the Mississippi Senate who have taken the lead in changing the State Flag. #TakeItDownMS #msleg #MSflag pic.twitter.com/FJ52zXfOU5
— Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan) June 27, 2020
For Moore, the decision represents a “new day” in Mississippi. “As a Mississippian, I am proud and grateful for a new day,” he wrote on Twitter.