Should Mississippi Remove the Confederate Emblem on its Flag?

Flag_of_Mississippi.svgSome of you may remember historian Otis Pickett from his excellent post on teaching history in a Mississippi prison. Read it here.

Pickett teaches at Mississippi College in Clinton.  He recently wrote an op-ed in the Clarion-Ledger arguing that the Confederate emblem on the Mississippi flag must go.

Here is a taste:

After the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag took on new meanings on the Southern landscape. It became thoroughly identified with a movement known as the Lost Cause, which sought to memorialize and preserve a collective Southern memory celebrating the Confederacy. However, as African-Americans were entering into civic spaces, running for office and voting in large numbers during Reconstruction and into the 1880s, they began to represent to Southern whites many of the great changes affecting the Southern landscape — chief among them a threat to Southern white political power. The Confederate flag began to be used publicly as a symbol that represented a return to “white rule.” Further, the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 became a legal tool to help whites regain political control through massive disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Through literacy clauses, poll taxes and interpretation clauses, African-Americans were almost entirely removed from the voting process in Mississippi until the mid-1960s. In the midst of this, attacks on African-Americans in the form of lynchings and violent intimidation attempted to keep African-Americans from political activity or challenging a new system of white control.

What became known as the Mississippi Plan would soon travel to other Southern states, which would adopt similar state constitutions, and Mississippi would become the model of how whites could regain political control and reassert their power. For instance, convict leasing, in a sense, re-enslaved thousands of African-American males who were charged and sent to prison for violating ridiculous vagrancy laws. Men and boys were arrested and sent to work back in the same cotton fields that their ancestors worked as enslaved people. On a larger scale, sharecropping and tenant farming kept African-American laborers in cycles of debt and poverty for generations. Mississippi laws also limited these laborers from moving around and hiring out their labor to improve their financial position. Typically, the Confederate flag was the rallying symbol used by whites that embodied a reassertion of white political, economic and social control. In a sense, it was the symbol that provided a visible pledge to the aforementioned ideologies, philosophies, laws and social relationships.

It was during this time period, in April of 1894, some 30 years after the Civil War, that the Confederate emblem appeared for the first time on the Mississippi state flag. It was very clear what attaching this symbol to the state flag at this time meant: a return to white rule via violence, intimidation and disenfranchisement in order to regain an antebellum Southern “way of life” in which African-Americans were in their “proper” place. The flag was symbolic of a return to white-controlled state politics and segregated social relationships. The Confederate flag also came to resemble the enforcement of the Jim Crow system through violence and intimidation. Mississippi would become the No. 2 state in the nation in lynchings per capita. There was a constant threat of violence against African-Americans, and the Confederate flag became the symbol associated with that violence.

During the early to mid-20th century, the Confederate flag became a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations that experienced a resurgence in the early 1920s. For just about all African-Americans and many whites, the Confederate flag became a symbol connected with hatred.

Since the late 1800s, the Confederate battle flag has been used as an emblem of rebellion against integration and human equality and has, as a symbol, come to do little more than create division.

Read the entire piece here.

Pickett’s powerful plea for justice (make sure you read the whole thing) has met with some opposition.  A writer at a conservative website in Mississippi recently argued that if the Confederate emblem is removed from the state flag then, by the same logic, we should also get rid of the Lincoln Memorial.  Read it here.

I think the author of this conservative piece needs to sit down and read the Second Inaugural and then see if he still thinks the leaders of Mississippi during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era are the moral equivalent of Lincoln.

Nice work, Otis!