Mississippi Defeats The Confederacy, But It's Not Over
After 126 years, the Confederate emblem is being removed from the Mississippi flag. Yup, you read that correctly... 126 years! In 1894, the State of Mississippi adopted the flag--29 years after the Civil War ended.
Last week, I wrote about the Confederate Battle Flag and was placed to see the bipartisan effort passed 91-23 vote in the state House and 27-14 vote in the state Senate. And I'm pleased to announce that Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has changed course stating that he will sign the bill into law! Once Governor Reeves signs the bill, the current flag will be void and a new design (with the words "in God we trust") will be chosen and placed on November's ballot (1).
CNN's Wolf Blitzer said, "Finally, Mississippi decided to be one of the 50 states, and not the one state standing alone still bearing the emblem of a segregated society" (2).
Many expressed their excitement about the flag change, including Bertram Hayes-Davis, the great-great-grandson of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. A week ago, he stated that the Confederate Battle Flag shouldn't be on the state flag. He reaffirmed those words yesterday after the vote: "the flag of Mississippi should represent the entire population, and I am thrilled that we're finally going to make that change" (3).
However small the feeling might be, society feels a smidge better as I start this week. But, what now? Do we just go on about our business? Does anything else need to happen?
The answer is YES! There's more at stake than just a flag. We have a chance to continue to be part of the solution. Here's how:
More Evaluation Needs to Happen
I attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Columbia, MO. Thankfully, our mascot wasn't "the Confederates" but "the Patriots" (the hypocrisy isn't lost, but we'll skip it for now). Each year we had an assembly about Robert E. Lee (telling us he was a great man). In the 5th grade, my friends Corey and Leon rolled their eyes and looked uncomfortable during the typical Lee speech. When I asked them about it, they told me that Lee owned slaves. I began learning more about Lee and found him lacking the integrity I thought he possessed.
Eventually, people discover your character.
After Lee's death, Frederick Douglass said the following about him: “'We can scarcely take up a newspaper . . . that is not filled with nauseating flatteries' of Lee, from which 'it would seem . . . that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven'” (4). Douglass--a man with much more character than Lee ever possessed--is spot-on. Lee's words and actions don't live up to the "American hero" image that's been forced on many of us.
For instance, though Lee called slavery a moral evil, he also said:
The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, and I hope will prepare and lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known and ordered by a wise Merciful Providence (5).
American hero? Nope. Consider how his character has proven otherwise:
Theologically, Lee's a heretic. To even suggest that God sovereignly planned the Transatlantic Slave Trade is beyond wicked.
What arrogance to even insinuate that the "discipline" he and other slaveowners dished out was needed for a race to mature.
Keep in mind that Lee not only owned slaves, but went to court in order to keep and manage his father-in-law's some 200 slaves (6). Lee won the court case because even though his father-in-law freed his salves on his death bed, “no white man was in the room, and the testimony of negroes will not be taken in Court" (7).
Lee was a brutal. One of Lee's former slaves, Wesley Norris talks here about how Lee beat him and other slaves.
Lee is as an example of the kind of vetting we need to do... and there's much more vetting that needs to be done. Out of the first 12 presidents, only John Adams and John Quincy Adams opposed slavery to the point they weren't slaveowners. John Quincy Adams said the following:
If the Union must be dissolved, slavery is precisely the question upon which it ought to break... (Slavery) is the root of almost all the troubles of the present and the fears for the future (8).
Do we really feel comfortable having monuments and statues of Lee and other Confederate leaders? Do we feel comfortable with flags that still resemble the Confederacy? (I'm looking at you, Georgia!) We need to do some soul searching.
As a nation, we need to evaluate who and what we honor.
Now, some of you are going to immediately cry "FOUL BALL!" Before you do and close out this page, just hear me out... In the last 12 years, "taxpayers have directed at least $40 million to Confederate monuments—statues, homes, parks, museums, libraries and cemeteries—and to Confederate heritage organizations" (9). Is that money well spent? And please don't argue, "Well, we spend X amount of dollars on this and no one says anything!" You're correct. I'm not talking about whatever you might bring up to try and cancel out my question.
I want to know if over $40 million is worth it? Want to see where all of the confederate monuments, statues, and such are? Just go to this interactive map. Personally, I don't believe spending that kind of money on those who defended slavery is a good cause... especially when some of the monuments exist to perpetuate the myth that the Confederacy was "misunderstood."
Even Lee himself was against the creation and establishment of Confederate statues and monuments (10). I'm not suggesting that we erase history. Quite the opposite.
Preserve history, but don't honor hate. Teach the facts, but never idolize racists.
I'm saying that as an American, I don't like honoring slave owners and Confederate leaders who took up arms against our nation. After telling my kids about Robert E. Lee and other such goons, I despise explaining to my kids why they are revered by our nation. I don't enjoy hearing my African American friends having to explain to their kids why a street is named a person who fought to keep them in slavery... a street name that reinforces racism today. As a Christian, I'm to model and teach my children and others that love does no harm to anyone (Romans 13:10). I'm to display the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I'm to love God and my neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). I'm even to love my enemies, pray for those who persecute me, and refuse to get revenge (Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:9-18). So, how in the world can I honor some monument or heritage that flies in the face of love? I cannot, but I can engage with others to make a difference!
Start Conversations, Join Conversations, Do Something
What or who made Mississippi change the state flag? Well, there was the NCAA notice to Mississippi that no more championships would be played in the state. Then organizations like Walmart, the US military, the Mississippi Baptist Convention, and more who came down hard on Mississippi lawmakers. Then, there was Kylin Hill, Mississippi State University's running back who threatened not to play unless the flag changed. All in all, everyone had a hand in helping to make this happen. This movement has been 126 years in the making! And some of you even had a hand in it. When you engaged in difficult conversations, learned the facts, considered what was at stake, wrote, spoke, taught your families, and more. You chose to love instead of despise. You chose to act rather than be indifferent. Like some of you, as a Christian, I had no other choice.
As a Christian, I cannot love my neighbor and honor Confederate emblems at the same time. Love never supports hate.
Personally, besides prayer, I believe the most powerful tool that change-makers have in their toolkit is conversation. There's a 2017 video on YouTube entitled Should the Confederate Flag Still Fly in Mississippi? It includes a group of people sitting down to talk about the possible changing of the flag. Half the people want the Confederate emblem to remain on the flag, while the other half do not.
Those who want to get rid of the Confederate emblem make points like the flag represents their heritage in a negative way. The suggestion is made to put the flag in a museum, but that neither should the flag nor Confederate statues be on government property. Near the beginning of the video, one gentleman says, "Can you see the discontent we have when we see statues of individuals who have fought, in our eyes, to keep people like you and I from getting together? Because if the South had won, we would never be together at this table."
The people who want to keep the Confederate emblem don't understand how a symbol can oppress people. They insist that changing a flag won't solve racism, because racism is a deeply profound problem. Speaking of the Confederate Battle Flag, the guy at the head of the table laments, "It upsets me that people use the symbol that I feel to be of beauty to me for ignorance and violence and to instill hate and fear into others" (11).
When you get a chance, watch that video, because it models what respectful conversations and dialogue. If we all work together, make less assumptions about each other, listen, and act--the world can change. It has to change. To much is at stake--not the least of which is a better society for my kids and grandkids. I want the world to be better. And I hope you're with me!
Bradford Betz, "Mississippi Lawmakers Vote to Remove Confederate Battle Emblem From Its Flag," Fox News (June 28, 2020). Accessed June 29, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/us/mississippi-flag-confederate-battle-emblem-house-vote.
Paul LeBlanc, "Mississippi State Legislature Passes Bill to Remove Confederate Symbol From State Flag in Historic Vote," CNN (June 29, 2020). Accessed June 29, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/28/politics/mississippi-flag-confederate-emblem/index.html.
Roy Blount, Jr., "Making Sense of Robert E. Lee," Smithsonian Magazine (July 2003). Accessed June 29, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/making-sense-of-robert-e-lee-85017563/.
Arijeta Lajka, "Gen. Robert E. Lee Owned Slaves," The Associated Press (June 12, 2020). Accessed June 29, 2020. https://apnews.com/afs:Content:9009420680.
Jacey Fortin, "What Robert E. Lee Wrote to The Times About Slavery in 1858," The New York Times (August 18, 2017). Accessed June 29, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/18/us/robert-e-lee-slaves.html.
Junius P. Rodriguez (ed), Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Inc, 2007), 41 & 153.
Brian Palmer & Seth Freed Wessler, "The Costs of the Confederacy," Smithsonian Magazine (December 2018). Accessed June 29, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/costs-confederacy-special-report-180970731/#xqhmLkq8ks7k5PO9.99.
Lee wrote: "I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered." The Republican Vindicator (September 3, 1869), page 1, column 1. Accessed June 29, 2020. http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=/xml_docs/valley_news/newspaper_catalog.xml&style=/xml_docs/valley_news/news_cat.xsl&level=edition&paper=rv&year=1869&month=09&day=03&edition=rv1869/va.au.rv.1869.09.03.xml.
The quotes and context referring to the video are taken from: "Should the Confederate Flag Still Fly in Mississippi?" Moral Courage Channel (December 20, 2017). Accessed June 28, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ird_I0aK1h0&t=29s. **The conversation begins about a minute into the video.