‘Well into middle age, after years working as a writer and an editor in Washington, D.C., and Virginia, I found myself unemployed and floundering. I eventually stumbled across a job, teaching as the Eudora Welty Visiting Scholar in Southern Studies at Millsaps College, a place loved by Miss Welty (to call her anything else would violate Southern propriety) and a quick walk from the house where she wrote her novel “Losing Battles.” I grew up on a farm near the small town of Mount Olive, and attended Ole Miss, a college where the Confederate battle flag was flown at football games. Upon graduating, in 1978, I left for the North and vowed never to return. But when I needed somewhere to go and sort out my life, there were no questions asked. After years as a black Southern expatriate and sometime critic of the place that shaped the man I have become, my loyalties were not scrutinized. In spite of everything, Mississippi left the door open for me and had my room ready.
At six every morning, I run a loop from my home, in the tidy, liberal enclave of Belhaven, through downtown Jackson, a mile and a half to the south. I rarely see another person, but along State Street flags are my constant companions. One version of the state flag has wide red, white, and blue stripes, and bears the Confederate Army’s battle flag in the top left corner. The other is white, with a magnolia tree in the center, a red stripe on the right, and, in place of the Confederate emblem, a white star on a square canton of dark blue. After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the official flag (the one with the tribute to the armies of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson) flew at half-mast outside the State Supreme Court, almost low enough for me to snatch it down—an idea, I admit, that held some appeal.
Mississippi’s current flag was introduced in 1894, around the same time Alabama and Florida introduced flags that were similarly reminiscent of the Confederate battle emblem. By that time, the Reconstruction era was over, and efforts by conservative Democrats had disenfranchised most African-Americans once again. The new flag was meant to honor Confederate veterans—to preserve the memory of those who had fought for secession from the Union. That the secession itself was intended to preserve the institution of slavery against the federal government (which, the secession declaration stated, “advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst”) is mostly glossed over in Mississippi today, where the flag is just as Southern as sweet tea and cornbread.
The magnolia flag flies above an office building across from the capitol and on the lawn of my neighbor, a white Democrat and Teach for America alum whose cheerful yellow bungalow I admire on my cool-down. It is an unofficial alternative for those who feel that the time is up for the Confederate emblem—although even the magnolia is not as innocent as it might seem. Its canton, the white star on a blue field, is derived from the so-called Original Lone Star flag, a banner first flown in 1810 by the short-lived Republic of West Florida, which encompassed a portion of modern Louisiana. It was then adopted by the about-to-secede Mississippi legislature, on January 9, 1861, and had an unfortunate second life as the Bonnie Blue; in that year, it inspired a popular song, “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” which celebrated the spirit of rebellion in Southern states (“We are a band of brothers and native to the soil / Fighting for the property”—read: slaves—“we gained by honest toil”).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jackson’s municipal government, largely black and Democrat, has refused to fly either flag over the city’s municipal buildings, and most residents don’t fly one, either. With a population of just more than a hundred and seventy thousand,
Mississippi’s largest city has a majority black population and a white liberal minority, who live in established neighborhoods like Belhaven or emerging ones like Fondren (whose motto is “keep Fondren funky”). Jackson is also distinguished by its high volume of potholes. In a rural state with a genuine distaste for urban spaces, the city is neglected by the men and women in the state legislature, who cannot be blind to the decay, since they experience the city’s bumpy streets on their way to the capitol.”‘…
BLACK LIVES MATTER!
‘JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — An integrated group of at least 200 students and faculty members rallied Friday at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, urging the Ole Miss administration to stop flying the state flag that includes the Confederate battle emblem.
About a dozen Confederate flag supporters showed up at the end of the rally, and photos show some wore T-shirts with the logo of an Arkansas-based Ku Klux Klan group, the International Keystone Knights.
Shouting broke out between the two sides, but there was no violence, said Allen Coon of Petal, Mississippi, a white Ole Miss student who wants to remove the flag…
The Mississippi flag and other Old South symbols have come under increased scrutiny since mid-June, when nine black worshippers were massacred at a church in South Carolina. Police say the killings were racially motivated, and the suspect had posed for photos holding the Confederate battle flag.
The Mississippi flag has had the Confederate battle emblem — a blue X with 13 white stars, over a red field — since 1894. Voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 election.
Several Mississippi cities and counties have taken down the state flag…and some business groups and university leaders, including those at Ole Miss, have said the banner should be redesigned….
The take-down-the-flag rally was sponsored by the campus NAACP. Protesters held signs that said, “Straight Outta Patience” and “Your Heritage is Hate.”’…
‘Two hate groups waved the Confederate emblem Friday during a demonstration by the University of Mississippi chapter of the NAACP to secure the removal of the Mississippi flag from campus.
If that happens, Ole Miss would become the fourth public university in the state that has chosen not to display the flag, which contains the Confederate battle emblem.
About 50 students, many of whom wore shirts emblazoned with “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter,” participated in the rally.
“I think that holding onto these symbols of white supremacy and of these symbols of exclusion, it only perpetuates this image and this stereotype that already follows the University of Mississippi,” said Dominique Scott, NAACP member and one of the three speakers at the event. “It definitely detracts from our mission of inclusion and progression and making this place a safe space for all people.”’…