A new flag: Yes

Mississippians need to be mindful,

but not mired in the past

Of all the defenders of Mississippi's 1894 state flag, few if any have the stature of native son Shelby Foote novelist and Civil War historian.

Last month, Foote told The Clarion-Ledger, "I think the flag should be left the way it is. I'm for the Confederate flag always and forever."

Still, he said, "I certainly understand why some people feel a pain in their heart because the flag was carried by yahoos in these demonstrations. That's because we stood back and let it be used. They had no right to be within a hundred yards of that flag, let alone wave it."

It is a familiar theme for Foote.

A banner for a noble cause, as well as an ignoble one

In an interview on C-SPAN cablecast on Dec. 8, 1996, Foote said of the aforementioned "yahoos": "I tell them to their faces that they are the scum who have degraded the Confederate flag, converted it from a symbol of honor into a banner of shame, covered it with obscenities like a roadhouse men's room wall."

Asked by C-SPAN host Brian Lamb, "Who are you talking about?", Foote said, "I'm talking about the yahoos who ran around waving the Confederate flag in favor of segregation and all that kind of thing. I regret it to this day. The Confederate flag is a banner for a noble cause, as well as some people seeing it as a banner of an ignoble cause because they were in defense of slavery."

Then why the "always and forever" commitment to the banners of the Confederacy?

During an interview cablecast on C-SPAN on Sept. 11, 1994, Lamb asked Foote, "From the books that you've written about the Civil War and from your appearance on the Civil War series, have you learned anything new about the United States and the people's reaction to it?"

Foote replied, "The biggest change I've seen is in the racial problem with the blacks, and some of it I regret very much. ... The Civil War, there's a great compromise, as it's called. It consists of Southerners admitting freely that it's probably best that the Union wasn't divided, and the North admits rather freely that the South fought bravely for a cause in which it believed. That is a great compromise and we live with that and that works for us. We are now able to look at the war with some coolness, which we couldn't do before now ....

"When I was a grade school boy in Mississippi, Yankees were despised. ... All that's over now, and the great compromise obtains. I wish my black friends could do the same thing..."

But is it more important for Mississippians to see their state flag and be reminded of the past - or to look at it and be reminded that the past, however glorious or ignoble, yields, always and forever, to the future? And that future will rest on the actions or inactions, glorious or ignoble, that Mississippians take in the present.

Foote's point about a great compromise following the Civil War is well taken. There was much honor among the men and women on both sides of that horrific struggle.

But it is time for another compromise, perhaps not one so great as that of the 19th century, but certainly one befitting Mississippi at the beginning of the 21st century.

On April 17, we urge all Mississippians to vote for the new state flag design and help foster a future that is mindful of, but not mired in, the past.

The Sun Herald, Biloxi/ Gulfport

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