|By A.D. Freudenheim||
23 April 2001
Does anybody care about Mississippi?
Those who live there appear to care. They care about their state in the deep and protective way that helps characterize some communities as inherently fearful of change - no matter how much that change may appear necessary to those on the outside. Thus the decision by voters in Mississippi last week to keep - and thus self-identify with, by some 65% of the vote - their current state flag. Unofficial for many years, the flag includes a prominent stars-and-bars pattern recognized as the symbol of the Confederacy.
Yet a look at Mississippi's official state web site shows nothing. No flag at all can be found there - the state flower is used as the main graphic image throughout the site - and the search engine divulges no results for the word "flag" at all. A search on "state symbols" comes up with a link, but it takes the user to the official site of Mississippi's governor, Ronnie Musgrove. Once there, nothing on the home page of Governor Musgrove's site indicates that there was recently a vote on the subject, let alone that the Governor himself came out in favor of changing the flag. In the section of the site reserved for press announcements, the most recent document is a 28 March announcement about the creation of a water and sewer task force. Even the web site for the Mississippi state legislature does not contain any prominent mention of the issue - and the photograph of the state capitol, with its flag waving in the sunlight, is tastefully blurred; only those in-the-know could identify this as a flag with the stars-and-bars on it.
Perhaps Mississippi's state government (and those who manage its web sites) understand what is going on here, but it is not at all clear to an outsider. Has the voice of the people been heard, or are the managers of the state of Mississippi trying to cover up the results of the vote? Is there some lingering shame or concern about what has happened here? Are they worried that despite their citizens' stand on the issue, Mississippi will be hurt by an economic boycott or other protests? Maybe the bureaucrats understand that their voters have just bucked a national trend, and not necessarily for the better. Certainly when compared to South Carolina, which last year removed the "rebel" symbol entirely, or Georgia, which recently minimized it and (they hope) contextualized it among other representative symbols of the state, Mississippi's decision to leave the Confederate cross on their flag seems quite defiantly "southern," in all of the complicated and sometimes unfortunate ways that this term represents.
Signs and symbols, like those on flags, or even the flags themselves, are often used to mark people as "believers," to create or reinforce divisions between "us" and "them." Public symbols do not necessarily define all of a community's views, but they can be representative of what people believe - and what people are willing to do to protect those beliefs.
But not all rebellions are good, and the secession of the southern states that caused the Civil War is one example. Those 65% of Mississippians who voted for the flag may have thought they were endorsing a symbol of support for state's rights. Unfortunately, the symbol Mississippi voters have chosen is a reminder mostly of the negative elements of the Confederacy, a rebellion that aligned itself with some very wrong-headed beliefs. What comes next will very much depend on how those who are troubled by this history decide to act. And act they should, if only to make it clear that the desire for stronger state's rights in the future does not have to be married to the bigotry and racism that makes up much of Mississippi's - and America's - past.
Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.