Any way it's examined, the old flag' loses

JACKSON - Who says slavery had nothing to do with the Confederate emblem in Mississippi's existing state flag? That's hogwash, as the record will show.

It's all right there in black and white (no pun intended) in the language our Mississippi forebears used 140 years ago when they seceded from the Union, an act that inevitably led to Civil War.

Unequivocally, it was about slavery, as Mississippi's Secession Ordinance of April 15, 1861, clearly states in its Declaration.

The second paragraph of that document begins: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery the greatest material interest in the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth."

The document goes on: "These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.

"These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has long been aimed at the institution and was at the point of reaching its consummation.

"There was no choice left but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin,"

Pretty stout words, huh? Of course today, those words are painful evidence that Mississippi's white leadership of those times considered Negroes mere chattels, objects of property, owned solely to work the cotton fields. Not human beings.

There is strong implication in the secession document couched in romantic terms ("What lies ahead will test the heroism, the nobler qualities of our race ...") that they were willing to go to war to protect their human "property."

It's true, of course, as Civil War historian Jay Winik pointed out in a recent article, few of the foot soldiers the grunts as they were labeled in World War II owned slaves. Further, he says, the average Confederate soldier probably never sawa battle flag with the Southern Cross, the emblem that has become emotionally divisive here, and in other Southern states which later incorporated it in their state banner.

Poignant symbol'

Because the Southern Cross was the battle flag used by Lee's famed Army of Northern Virginia, Winik writes, "it has evolved as a poignant symbol" of Confederate memory.

Winik, an authority on Robert E. Lee, strongly believes that Lee himself would reject the popularization of the Southern Cross in the manner it has been used.

He offers this advice to Mississippians: "Change (your) flag, not as a rejection of the Confederate experience, but because, in the end, your attachment is not limited to the Confederate legacy." He adds "none taught this lesson better than Robert E. Lee, whose soldiers popularized the Southern Cross."

Now, Mississippi is left as the only state that prominently displays the Confederate battle emblem in its flag andpressure is mounting from every business and cultural sector to get rid of the symbol before it becomes a huge burden thatwill stifle state economic development and national acceptance. The Nissan people got word to Gov. Ronnie Musgrove that they didn't want to come into Mississippi and get caught up in boycott against the state over the flag and pushed him to step up his efforts to have the new flag approved.

NCAA word to MSU

Same word came from the NCAA toMississippi State University that it could forget about hosting any more regional college baseball tournaments as long as the old flag stayed.

As those of us who are longtime observers of the political scene here well know, Mississippi doesn't make changes easily and adopting a new flag is going to take a whale of an organized campaign to get it done.

We're seeing, at last, some signs that the business community and the chambers of commerce around the state are becoming mobilized to back the flag change. That well-known sports figures and coaches have been speaking out lately for the new flag is also not coincidental.

Soon to come will be a professional state campaign organization to change the flag not unlike one to elect a governor of the state.

A lot of people in Mississippi are at last beginning to realize that if the new flag loses, they too have a lot to lose.

Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. His address is Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215.

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