Let’s surprise everyone and do the right thing
This letter was addressed and submitted originally to Gov. Reeves, Lt Gov. Hosemann, Rep. Shane Aguirre, and Sen. Chad McMahan.
I am writing as a constituent of Mississippi (Tupelo/Lee County). While I have lived most of my life in Mississippi (and attended both Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi), I have also lived in two other states. I have lived on the east coast and on the west coast of our country.
Part of my time on the west coast included civilian support work for the United States Marine Corps, 12th District. I was a civilian employee, but my supervisors were an active duty Major and a retired Lt. Col. I was born overseas while my father was on active duty with the USAF during the Cold War. I have family members that served in Vietnam and Korea. My sister-in-law also served overseas with the State Department. All this to say that, while I have not served in the military, I have been a civil servant, and I am familiar with military and service traditions.
I bring this up because I know that many people are under the impression that any discussion of flags • particularly kneeling in front of the American flag – is considered disrespectful of our nation or its service members. I disagree with this sentiment for several reasons: 1) the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech is integral to our nation’s values and is a primary reason that these men and women serve our country; and 2) kneeling is not disrespectful – hell, it’s the opposite – soldiers kneel for fallen comrades. Sometimes this “kneeling is disrespectful” argument gets tied up, consciously or subconsciously, with the Confederate battle emblem being part of our “heritage.” On that note – we should remind ourselves that:
1. The Confederacy was first and foremost established to continue and protect the institution of slavery and the ideals of white supremacy. This is not a matter of opinion or interpretation. For anyone who is not aware, I encourage you to look up and read the 1861 “Cornerstone Address” by Confederate VP Alexander Stephens.
2. The Confederacy was literally a rebellion against the United States of America. Flying a Confederate-related flag, especially in an official capacity on our state flag, is arguably the antithesis of American patriotism. As you are no doubt aware, USMC commandant Gen. Berger recently banned the display of Confederate iconography by Marines and at Marine installations, and Admiral Gilday did the same for the Navy. The US Army will likely follow suit in the near future.
3. I am not sure that the “heritage” argument holds much water anyway given that the Confederacy lasted only 4 years out of our 200+ year history (2%). More importantly, the Confederate battle flag emblem only became prominently used again eight decades after the conclusion of the Civil War. This emblem was used as a symbol for those opposing desegregation and civil rights. Again, this is not open to opinion or interpretation, this is fact. Similarly, many of the Confederate monuments were erected during this time period for the same reasons. If you don’t believe me, contact any of our wonderful state universities and ask for a US history professor. I assure you, they will confirm this as true.
The fact that these symbols rose to such prominence again during the times of Jim Crow laws, Brown v. Board of Education, and the civil rights movement should be all the proof necessary that this flag is divisive. It represents the opposite of unity. The purpose of a state or nation’s flag should be to represent all citizens – all of your constituents. This is especially disturbing given that Mississippi is the state with the highest proportion of Black citizens. I feel it is important to add here that the idea of a “second flag” while keeping the current flag is absurd. The last thing we need to do is to make a change that is reminiscent of “separate but equal.”
Not that they needed to have done so to receive equal representation and consideration, but Black people have made enormous contributions to American culture and to Mississippi culture. We could spend a lifetime discussing them, but for starters, just think of Mississippi’s amazing blues heritage: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Junior Kimbrough, Robert Johnson, Bo Diddley, Albert King, and R.L. Burnside – all internationally-recognized, critically-acclaimed musicians (and, it should be noted that Elvis Presley took enormous inspiration from the blues). We get the privilege to claim amazing Black entertainers like Morgan Freeman, Oprah Winfrey, and the legendary James Earl Jones. Walter Payton and Jerry Rice are two of the biggest names in NFL history. Mississippi was home to a huge number of tireless Black civil rights activists: Ruby Bridges, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Medgar Evers, Myrlie Louise Evers–Williams, Fannie Lou Hamer, and James Meredith, to name just a few. We have prominent Black journalists, too, like Robin Roberts and Howard Bingham. For every individual I’ve listed here, there are a hundred more whom I couldn’t fit, and a thousand more whose names are lost to history.
Mississippi has a troubled past, no doubt: removal of Native people, enslavement, segregation, de jure racism, and so on. Mississippi is, unfortunately, not all that unique in those aspects. Recently, there has been an increased (and deserved, long overdue) recognition of the historical and still-ongoing plights faced by Black Americans. These plights include but are not limited to: systemic racism, racial profiling, disproportionate arrests and incarceration, rampant cases of police brutality, discrimination in access to home loans (redlining), racial disparities in healthcare, and more overt actions (which could easily be labeled as terrorism) like the noose found just recently in Bubba Wallace’s garage. Mississippi has its own cases like the atrocious corruption, racism, and injustice present in the case of Curtis Flowers – the deservedly famous podcast In the Dark covered this case in exhaustive detail and gave a laundry list of systemic issues that we should feel compelled to address.
The nation, and especially Mississippi (in light of increased recent discussions of our state flag), now stand at a crossroads. Will we embrace our state’s diversity, will we celebrate and uplift people of all skin colors, and will we finally take that first step towards inclusion and recognition for Black Mississippians? Will we look forward, and actively plan for a brighter future, where tomorrow is better than today, for all Mississippians? Or will we surprise no one and continue blindly (and dare I say ignorantly) sounding off about “heritage” while alienating over 1,100,000 Black Mississippians?
We are in the national spotlight, and everyone is expecting to be disappointed in us yet again. Let’s give them a pleasant surprise. I wholeheartedly encourage you to take a stand, to be bold, and to do what needs to be done: to fight tirelessly for justice on behalf of all Mississippians. But don’t consider this a request, because it’s your damned job. You represent all of us.
Cody S. Jordan, M.Sc.