How Much Longer will the Confederate Flag live as the Mississippi state flag?
OXFORD – The usage and display of the highly controversial Confederate flag is still a major issue in the state of Mississippi as well as for the University of Mississippi. As of today, Mississippi is currently the only state to keep the Confederate battle emblem as a part of their state flag. The ugly history of racial segregation and slavery that this flag carries, however, is still not enough for Oxford residents to stop showing support for it. The “local identity” and respect for “heritage” has long been the answer of keeping this flag alive. However, as long as the flag still lives, the healing process for some will never begin.
The famous flag, which is seen on many private properties, hats, shirts, cars and even knives, essentially everywhere in Oxford, is the well-known rebel flag. The rebel flag is an identical copy of the Confederate Battle Flag, also known as the “Southern Cross” or “Dixie Flag” which was used during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. For most white people living in the Oxford area, the rebel flag symbolizes Southern “pride” in heritage and is “a way of life,” and for the rest, it’s an unfortunate reminder of slavery and racial segregation not too long ago.
In April of 2001, Mississippi voters were able to vote on whether or not to change the state flag with a new proposed flag. The new flag would be red, white and blue and contain 20 stars and a blue canton. The new proposed flag lost to the rebel flag with the rebel flag gaining 64% of the votes (488,630) to 36% (267,812). It is evident that even in the new millennium, after more than century and a half after the Civil War, that residents living in Mississippi are not fully ready to change and erase a terrible image from its history.
According to the latest national survey by the Pew Research for the People & the Press in 2011, More than half of Americans (56%) say the Civil War is still relevant today. About a quarter of all whites (24%) consider themselves Southerners, 75% do not. Fewer than 8 percent say they display the Confederate flag around their house or office. Almost 45% of African Americans have no reaction to the Confederate flag. 61% of whites say they have no reaction to the flag.
According to Dr. Thomas G. Clemens, a History and Social Science Professor at Hagerstown Community College, the rebel flag is technically not the flag of Confederate States of America or Confederate Army because the Confederate Battle Flag was shaped as a square and not a rectangle.
“As the modern civil rights movement gain steam, the resistance to integration and civil rights and the federal authority, chose as a symbol of what they called the confederate flag. They couldn’t find easily manufactured versions of it in square pattern because most flags are rectangular, so they simply took the military battle flag and made these in large numbers so they could become a symbol of hatred and violence and it was a symbol that was eventually adopted by the Ku Klux Klan,” Clemens said.
Regardless of the shape of the Confederate flag, the emblem still symbolizes a time of violence and hatred. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 500 extremist groups use the Southern Cross as one of their symbols. One of the most famous and notorious group to adopt the flag was the Ku Klux Klan.
Back in 2009, the Ku Klux Klan gathered together on the Ole Miss Campus to protest against Chancellor Dan Jones decision to remove the song “From Dixie with Love,” from the school band list. The song was played during football games but became controversial when fans started to sing at the end of the song, “The South will rise again.” Around 250 people showed up to the event to protest against the 12 Klansmen on campus.
In more recent news involving the Confederate flag, the Mississippi Supreme Courthouse in Jackson, “accidentally” raised the Confederate flag instead of raising the state flag. The confusion was most likely due to the part that both flags have the Confederate emblem attached to it. The flag flew high for hours before it was noticed by the Jackson Police Department and taken down. According to the Huffington Post, a replacement flag was needed to take the place of the old torn up Mississippi state flag and that a box carrying another new state flag, was actually carrying a Confederate naval battle flag.
Around half of the students at Ole Miss are from out of state and most of them are not use to seeing the Confederate emblem on a daily basis. Freshmen student Matt McElroy, 19, says he was surprised when he first came to Ole Miss this year and noticed that there were Confederate flags and emblems in almost every dorm room except for minorities.
“I was shocked at first because everybody had a rebel flag in some sort of shape or size,” McElroy said, “In most places, people see that flag and automatically think that your racist but I don’t t think that’s the case here in Mississippi. It’s almost weird if you don’t have the flag to be honest.”
Since 1983, the University of Mississippi has distance itself from Confederate symbols and even barred faculty staff from having Confederate imagery from their office. It wasn’t till 1997 when the student senate passed a resolution on requesting fans not to bring the confederate battle flag to athletic events. Tommy Tuberville, the head football coach at Ole Miss at the time, was a key figure in making fans help get the Confederate flag out of the stadium.
In 1982, John Hawkins was the first black cheerleader to join Ole Miss’ cheerleading team, and was scrutinized for refusing to wave the Confederate flag during a game. According to Hawkins, he was trying to change the mindset of the student body and says that Ole Miss is moving forward from its past.
Ole Miss has come a long way from the integration of James Meredith in 1962. Last year, the university celebrated the 50th anniversary of the integration of James Meredith, which has been a step in the right direction for the university and for the state.
Ole Miss has been working year after year to improve its image to the national public. However, last year another backlashed happen when the student “protest” and “riot” on the night of President Barack Obama’s re-election occurred on the university’s campus. According to reports, racial slurs were being shouted out and Obama election signs were being burned while, Confederate flags were being waved by students who were unaware of the exact history and meaning of the flag. This unfortunately put another dent on the image that the university has been trying to steer away from.
Eric Foner, an American Historian and History Professor at the Columbia University, thinks that one day that the Confederate flag will inevitably be taken down. Foner has served as president of three major professional organizations which include Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association and Society of American Historians. According to Foner, “As for the Confederate Flag flying atop public buildings… The practice should stop because the buildings belong to all the people, not just those who revere the Confederacy and its symbol.”
Jason Pressberg, Columnist from Elon University, believes the Confederate flag will never be an accepted symbol even though it no longer means the enforcement of slavery. Pressberg compares the Confederate flag to the Nazi symbol and that, “You can try to change the meaning, but outsiders will always view it as a sign of hatred and bigotry.” Pressburg also went on to talk about how the flag must go because it will always be symbol of racism. “There are a lot of good things about the South, but there are many other ways to glorify it than this one.”
Most people would agree with both Foner and Pressburg over the Confederate flag meaning unless you were born in the South. Graduate from Ole Miss, Don MacKercher 23, from Charlotte, North Carolina thinks that the Confederate flag does stand for traditionally good things and that it will always be part of the of Mississippi and even Ole Miss.
“I think the flag is too big in Mississippi culture for it to be taken away,” MacKercher said, “My parents graduated from Ole Miss and they love the history that Mississippi has, not because of race related issues, but because that’s where they met and fell in love. They still can’t believe that they took Col. Reb away as a mascot.”
There will always be controversy over the Confederate flag as long as it stays the state flag. While some living in the Oxford area believe the flag to be part of “family heritage” and “local identity,” others think of it as a horrific memory of racial segregation and enslavement. Only time will tell if the people living in Mississippi will come together and decide to take the Confederate emblem of the states flag.
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Sources – Dr. Thomas G. Clemens, Matt McElroy, Jesse Pressburg, Eric Foner, Don MacKercher