[Head] Rebels Without a Cause | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Head] Rebels Without a Cause

April 17 marks the 10th anniversary of the flag referendum vote, when 65 percent of Mississippi voters decided to keep the Confederate battle flag in the official state flag of Mississippi rather than adopt a new flag design. The vote was decided on racial lines, with 90 percent of white voters supporting the old flag and 95 percent of black voters supporting the new one.

The last Confederate veteran died in 1959, so no living voter would have been in a position to have ever seen the battle flag used in a proper military context. But it had become a symbol of defiance during the segregationist era, a way white southerners could remind everybody else—non-white southerners, allied northerners and so forth—of the high price they had been willing to pay to maintain the old racial system referred to euphemistically as "the southern way of life."

My sense as a Mississippian is that by 2001 that same spirit of defiance led many whites to oppose what they saw as a national "political correctness" movement to eliminate the Confederate battle flag from other state flags, an effort that would ultimately prove successful everywhere but here.

I suppose it could have been that same spirit of defiance that recently motivated Gov. Haley Barbour to wobble on the issue of whether he would be willing to unequivocally oppose a proposed Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate honoring Confederate general and first grand wizard of the KKK Nathan Bedford Forrest. Barbour's deferential attitude toward the Sons of Confederate Veterans had been noted in the past, particularly in his willingness to declare April Confederate History and Heritage Month in annual letters his office sent to the SCV (but, curiously, did not release to the press). And it was something like that spirit of defiance that may have led Barbour to praise the racist old Citizens Council of Yazoo City, or to have himself photographed with representatives of its modern-day counterpart, the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, in 2003.

I can't say for sure why Barbour did these things, and I don't think he's likely to go in front of a microphone and tell us anytime soon. But we're going to hear an awful lot of defiant speech about the Confederacy over the next month from other public figures as the flag-vote anniversary is preceded by what is likely to be a much more high-profile anniversary on April 12: the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

With state-sponsored events and media coverage centering on the anniversary, this could be an ideal time to revisit the flag issue and finally drive old Dixie down. I see several reasons to believe that we could get a different outcome this time:

• We'll have a better alternative flag design. The 2001 vote was arguably as much a referendum on the new flag as it was on the Confederate battle flag. The new, proposed flag was bland, generic and had no clear connection to Mississippi's history, outside of its vague similarity to the obscure Confederate First National Flag. This time, we can crowd-source a design until one specific proposal has visible support and momentum, then organize grassroots efforts in support of that proposal.

• We'll have different voters. Young voters energized by the 2008 Barack Obama campaign gave him 44 percent of the vote in this state, a figure difficult to imagine seven years earlier, and thousands of new voters will have come of age by the time any new referendum comes up.

• We'll actually talk about the old flag's racist symbolism. Media coverage of the 2001 flag referendum vote documents a campaign that had low young voter turnout and, in the words of The New York Times, "deliberately shied from the issues of racial history surrounding the Confederacy, and focused instead almost entirely on the economic argument." It's difficult to effectively address a racism issue by sweeping the subject of race under the rug. With more media outlets (online and offline), Mississippians will be better situated to educate each other about how the flag has been used in the past and why it is so widely regarded as a racist symbol.

It's true that taking down the Dixie flag will not eliminate the effects of racism, but symbols are important. Ten years ago, an overwhelming majority of white Mississippians stood together to support a flag design that is harmful to the state's reputation, economy and culture; that excludes a third of the population; and that identifies the state as belonging to a pro-slavery military coalition that was soundly defeated well over a century ago. By overturning that decision, the voters of Mississippi can finally declare victory over it—and put a little bit more of our state's Confederate history behind us.

Freelance writer Tom Head is a lifelong Jacksonian. He has authored or co-authored 24 nonfiction books on a wide range of topics, is a civil liberties writer for About.com, and volunteers as a grassroots progressive activist.

Previous Comments

ID
162984
Comment

I agree with most of what Tom says but I don't necessarily believe 90 percent of white voters supported the old flag and 95 percent of black voters supported the new one. There were two white majority counties, including Madison County, that supported the new flag (not to mention several black majority counties voted for the old one). Saying that 90-95 percent of any groups supports anything strikes me as likely skewed for rhetorical purposes, but if there are links to any professional and nonpartisan research suggesting these numbers are true I'd be interested in looking at it.

Author
ed inman
Date
2011-04-04T13:23:43-06:00
ID
162986
Comment

Ed your spot on, I have to agree with you on this one. The flag is a shaky thing for me, because quite a few blacks did vote to maintain "dixie" in the heart of the flag. If they do breakdown and try to vote a new flag again, I hope whoever trys to do a new design, incorporate the Spanish, British, French ties into the flag, something sort of like Maryland's flag - I love that design. I like S. Carloina's too.

Author
Duan C.
Date
2011-04-04T14:07:10-06:00
ID
162987
Comment

I asked for his numbers to be factchecked, Ed, so I will check on it. Or, Tom, let him know your source if you see this first. It does certainly sound conceivable to me that, of those who voters (which clearly Tom is talking about), 90 of whites wanted the old and 95 percent of blacks wanted the new, though.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-04-04T14:09:02-06:00
ID
162989
Comment

Ed, apparently a source for those numbers is Jere Nash and Andy Taggart's book, "Mississippi Politics" on page 282.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-04-04T14:19:49-06:00
ID
162991
Comment

I was covering the election as a reporter in Madison County (one of two majority-white counties supporting the new flag). As I recall the most heavily-white precincts in Madison and Ridgeland voted for the new design in the 40 percent range. It wasn't a majority but it was far more than 10 percent. OTOH, Rankin County, where the old flag won 3-1 seems to have been more closely aligned with Tom's percentages. Oktibbeha (Starkville area) was the other majority white county to support the new design I believe and there were three or four majority-black Delta counties that voted for the old flag, suggesting (I suppose) low voter turnouts.

Author
ed inman
Date
2011-04-04T15:03:11-06:00
ID
162997
Comment

I read that the 2001 vote was 65% white and 35% black. Darlene Collier, Founder, Citizens Against the Rebel Flag, had the county stats; I saw them years ago. Counties like Hinds had more white voters to vote gainst the old flag. I don't honor the MS flag. It aint' my state flag. The rebel flag must go. It will go one day. Like it or not. www.therebelflaggomust.com SIGN THE PETITION!!!!!!

Author
Meredith
Date
2011-04-04T20:20:41-06:00
ID
162998
Comment

Meredith- I think it was just 65% to 35% to keep the flag. Doesn't matter anyway, vote would turn out the same anyway,it would take 30% of the voters to change their mind and vote against it, and I don't see that happening and for Tom thinking all the new young voters would vote against the flag is wishful thinking I asked about ten of my daughters' friends if how they would vote and every one said they would vote to keep it. I think more people would vote to keep it now than before. Ya'll would lose again.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2011-04-05T09:17:00-06:00
ID
162999
Comment

I found a study prepared by Douglas Feig of the Mississippi State University Department of Political Science that addresses this vote in length. He cites two different statewide surveys which found support for the old flag in '01 was roughly 75 to 82 percent among white voters; 22 to 28 percent among African American voters. I would respectfully give more credibility to this research than whatever Taggart and Nash may have said. http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/6/8/1/0/pages68100/p68100-1.php

Author
ed inman
Date
2011-04-05T12:13:23-06:00
ID
163000
Comment

Quite the contrary - we will win. The students at OLE MISS got rid of COL REB. Don't under-estimate the youth vote.

Author
Meredith
Date
2011-04-05T13:35:40-06:00
ID
163001
Comment

Feig was was my prof at State! Studied political statistics under him, among other things. Of course, "support" and "vote" are two different things as we all know. I do know that Jere Nash is purty good with them statistics; we'll have to see what their primary source was. It's quite possible, even probable, that you're all right.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-04-05T14:21:47-06:00
ID
163002
Comment

Meredith- The students didn't anything to do with getting rid of Colonel Reb at Ole Miss and weren't given a choice of keeping him.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2011-04-05T15:20:53-06:00
ID
163004
Comment

Indeed they are, Donna. It's a pretty long report but reading further into it, Feig summarizes that of those African Americans who actually came to the polls, only about 7 percent are estimated to have voted for the old flag (amid a relatively low voter turnout). That did not surprise me so much, as did the suggestion 90 percent of white voters cast ballots for the old flag. That figure seemed unusually high, considering what I observed locally. But Feig's final summary suggests the 90 percent figure is, at most, a slight exaggeration--and probably within 5 percentage points of accuracy. While nearly 42 percent of white voters supported the new flag in Oktibbeha (and percentages reached well into the mid-30s in Hinds, Madison and Lafayette) overall support among urban whites statewide totaled only about 18 percent according to Feig, with only 11 percent support among rural whites. That still seems quite surprising to me and, frankly, a little depressing.

Author
ed inman
Date
2011-04-05T19:03:27-06:00
ID
163006
Comment

Ed- It's not surprising at all that 90-95% of the whites voted to keep the flag, and probably will again,if need should ever arise. Nothing depressing about it, I am elated.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2011-04-05T20:50:27-06:00
ID
163007
Comment

Of course you are, Bubba. I feel you, Ed. But far too many people didn't know what they were voting for. Remember that one of the primary goals of the Citizens Council (and that Tom Brady guy who wrote their treatise in the early 1950s was "youth indoctrination). Many of those indoctrinated "youth" voted to keep the old flag in 2001. Many had no idea what it was used to support and push.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-04-06T09:39:15-06:00
ID
163008
Comment

The students didn't anything to do with getting rid of Colonel Reb at Ole Miss and weren't given a choice of keeping him. That's how the state flag issue should have been handled. If Musgrove had any guts, he would have just changed it and said, "here is your new flag!" By putting it to a vote, he knew what the outcome would be (and why).

Author
Tre
Date
2011-04-06T11:13:57-06:00
ID
163010
Comment

I have heard from many white Mississippians that "many" or "most" black people voted to keep the flag, despite the fact that this claim makes no sense. Just looking at the numbers should make any observer suspect that the vote divided largely along racial lines. I am sure that those numbers are nearly identical with how the vote broke for Obama in 2008. That is to say, whites voted for Obama in Hinds County and in small numbers elsewhere, and three or four blacks voted for McCain. But the single-best predictor for how someone voted was their race. That wasn't the case in many other parts of the country. I told people I thought Mississippi could break for Obama with high black turnout, because it then takes only a relatively small number of whites voting for the Democrat to reach a majority. I was bitterly disappointed that about 90 percent of whites voted for McCain. In any case, these numbers demonstrate why it is morally wrong for the state flag to include the stars and bars. If 90 percent of blacks regard the symbol as inappropriate, then that should end the discussion right there. Given the state's history, basic decency requires removing the flag. It should never have been put to a vote, because respecting the minority should not be subject to majority rule. Never mind the fact that blacks would actually make up a majority of Mississippians today if so many hadn't left. And why did they leave? Because they were exploited, terrorized, and dehumanized by whites in a deliberate program to prevent a black majority. And never forget that the flag was adopted long after the Civil War, in 1897. It was not Mississippi's flag from time immemorial, as many people claim. It has always been a symbol of racism.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2011-04-06T14:45:19-06:00
ID
163014
Comment

I have heard from many white Mississippians that "many" or "most" black people voted to keep the flag, despite the fact that this claim makes no sense. Yes, I've heard whites say that a lot, Brian. It is clearly yet another fabricated myth spread by people who do not wish to face the reality of our history (you know, kind of like saying the Civil War wasn't about slavery). You just can't throw it down the memory hole, folks. Chilling, indeed.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-04-06T16:16:34-06:00
ID
163015
Comment

What you say is essentially true, Tom--I didn't think the statewide percentage was of such a monolithic proportion. The whole campaign *was* rather poorly handled though, so some voters may have been rejecting the new design more than they were expressing an eternal endearment to the old one. Or, maybe I'd just like to think that. Time will tell I suppose.

Author
ed inman
Date
2011-04-06T16:44:13-06:00
ID
163017
Comment

I think that the people who continue to argue about keeping the Confederate Flag as Mississippi's badge of courage, a mark of excellence and an attempt to act as if the South WON the Civil War, should try to walk in my shoes - just for a day. Many seem to continue their fight against black people and when I hear statements, i.e., "take our country back", I know that these are code words for MS to return to the days of old where whites controlled the lives of blacks and contrary to the opinion of some, life for black folks was a living hell. This flag that BubbaT and some others on this link continue to pledge their allegence and pretend to be totally without any understanding of WHY my people, who suffered and died under this flag, represents nothing but hateful, cruel treatment of humans whose only difference was the COLOR OF THEIR SKIN. Below the dermis, all other physiognomy was/is the same. Again I say, The South lost the war. In losing the war, the flag was lost. It should only rest in a museum and for the people who MUST have it, let it be a personal thing: not one that flies on State Buildings and schools where young black boys and girls must walk by and ask, "Why do we have to walk through this symbol of pain?" There are many progressive whites who are outraged at the fact that MS voted to keep this flag. For their level of understanding and empathic feelings about this issue, I simply say, "THANK YOU"

Author
justjess
Date
2011-04-06T18:52:56-06:00
ID
163018
Comment

If we are to consider the state flag to be "Mississippi's brand logo" we should all strive to improve the brand image before we change the logo. I am sure the total cost for the previous failed attempt to change the flag ran into the millions. We should think long and hard before spending state money on what might possibly fail again. The same amount could easily improve some of our failing infrastructure or be invested in tangible benefits such as the civil rights museum that actually show progress instead of just trying to rebrand the same old content.

Author
Jacksonlibertarian
Date
2011-04-06T19:05:55-06:00
ID
163021
Comment

Jess- More have people suffered under the American flag because of their skin color than under the Mississippi flag, you want to change it too?

Author
BubbaT
Date
2011-04-07T01:38:32-06:00
ID
163022
Comment

"Also, who out there remembers the black man dressed in a Confederate Battle Uniform with a Confederate Battle Flag standing at attention at the High Street exit the weeks prior to the vote?" I certainly do! How can you forget him? That fella and stokes almost got to duking it out one time at a meeting, lol!!! Anywho, it's people like him, in this state - that I've seen and come across on numerous occasions that made me side with Ed on this topic in the first place.

Author
Duan C.
Date
2011-04-07T08:08:24-06:00
ID
163027
Comment

George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner's, 1905) Adam Lynch's article "War on the Poor" makes a good argument for that statement. I would suggest that until we overcome the past, the flag should serve as a reminder. I believe that we should work toward a better future rather than spend time and energy fighting symbols. I think attacking the symbol just fosters resentment and creates further entrenchment of outdated ideals. We must not forget where we have been and must know why we have to strive so hard to educate and change misconceptions. Its been said in many ways, but in the end and at our core, we are all the same - we share the same desires to know where our next meal is coming from, to know we have shelter for the night, to feel safe from harm and hopeful for our future. We also share the same fears that someone or something will take away one or more of those things from us. Until we stop framing the discussion as black versus white or white versus black and start framing the discussion as Neighbor helping Neighbor, Mississippian helping Mississippian there will be little meaningful progress. When the changes are made, the symbol will fall away. or maybe I should put it like : Don't spend time changing the symbol, fight to change hearts and minds and the symbol will follow.

Author
BobbyKearan
Date
2011-04-07T11:00:12-06:00
ID
163030
Comment

Michael, you seem confused about our discussion here. No one has claimed that zero African Americans supported the stars and bars. The claim is that very few African Americans supported it. I'll bet I could go out with a camera and find people who think the moon landing was fake. Such an exercise tells us nothing except that there are at least a small number of people who believe such nonsense. If we want to understand whether a significant number of people hold that view, we need to present better evidence than the fact that some guy stood by the interstate. I wish some of my white brothers would slow down and really think about what Jess wrote above. Don't just dismiss it. The vote on the flag suggests that hundreds of thousands of black people feel the same way. I know it doesn't matter to you--that's what's so disappointing. You don't find it offensive, and you don't think anyone else should either. That's all that matters to you. Your stubbornness on these matters is embarrassing. It's like you can't resist the opportunity to flip the bird at black people, who have put up with so much bull shit from whites over the years. You say to them over and over again, "You don't matter." Bubba, don't ever compare the stars and bars with the red, white, and blue. I won't have you insult my country that way.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2011-04-07T14:13:24-06:00
ID
163041
Comment

I think most Native Americans might agree with Bubba there Brian. Why not change a symbol's meaning instead of the symbol? The swastikas on the floor of the capitol building are proof that a symbol can be changed by its use for good or bad causes.

Author
Jacksonlibertarian
Date
2011-04-07T16:58:05-06:00
ID
163050
Comment

Brian-You find the truth insulting. I can think of quite of few horrilbe things that have been done under the U.S. flag. Bear River,Sand Creek,Washita,Rock Springs, Wound Knee massacres, want me to go on? that's just off the top of my head. I can look up more if you need them. And slavery exisited a lot longer under the U.S. flag than the 4 yrs of the Condfederate flag. Jacksonlibertarian is right about the swastikas' there were a couple of U.S. national guard unit that used own their uniforms before WWII.It's a cross. You want have me insult our country?, just who the hell do you think you are that you can control anything that I do? If you haven't figure out by no I do what I damn well please, you don't like tough.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2011-04-07T19:45:27-06:00
ID
163054
Comment

It is the epitome of those afflicted with white privilege to not care if the symbols of that privilege offend other people. They're the only ones who matter. To them.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-04-07T20:19:08-06:00
ID
163057
Comment

Bubba, there is a world of difference between the stars and bars and the red, white, and blue. You are right that many crimes have been committed under the flag of the United States. But at least it symbolizes an ideal of liberty and equality. The Rebel flag is a symbol of white supremacy. That is always what it has meant. You might object that the South was fighting for its freedom as well, but that idea is inherently racist. The Civil War is properly named, because the African Americans of the South wished to be free, despite delusions to the contrary among the Southern elite. It is perfectly fitting that the South lost in part because blacks abandoned the plantations and joined the Union Army. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. But there is a huge difference between Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson Davis. I'll leave it to Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens to explain the difference. Here he is praising the Confederate Constitution: The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] ... were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. ... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the 'storm came and the wind blew.' Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. ... Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. If you want to march under that flag, Bubba, you go right ahead.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2011-04-07T21:31:01-06:00
ID
163058
Comment

Also, the swastika is not the example you guys want to use. It is true that the swastika once had a generally positive meaning. But then it became associated with fascism and genocide. As a result, no one but white supremacists uses the swastika today. When a symbol is adopted by an evil cause, it often becomes tainted forever.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2011-04-07T22:27:21-06:00
ID
163060
Comment

"But then it became associated with fascism and genocide. As a result, no one but white supremacists uses the swastika today. When a symbol is adopted by an evil cause, it often becomes tainted forever. Great point Brian and that is why it amazes me. The Mississippi and Georgia state flag has Dixie in the heart of the state flag, and the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Brotherhood/Nation and other white supramicists use it (Dixie) as a symbol to reprresent their organizations. I know someone will make the argument that the states had it first, so therefor they should continue to use it - with disregard to the "unrelated" association? But I find that to be a weak argument for maintaining the flag in its current state or condition. I remember the L.A. Kings hockey team, team paraphenilia was selling like hot cakes, because of numerous gangs wearing it to represent their so-called organizations. Once they got a whiff of the negativity attached to their product. They changed their team colors, design schemes and team logo to disassociate with that negative image. So how do you disconnect the state of Mississippi waving dixie, from someone in a hate group waving dixie? You really can't?

Author
Duan C.
Date
2011-04-08T07:03:32-06:00
ID
163075
Comment

"So how do you disconnect the state of Mississippi waving dixie, from someone in a hate group waving dixie? You really can't?" I think that in and of itself is the problem we have here. Some of them are one and the same even. That is an undeniable fact unfortunately and nothing will change until that is addressed by community pressure. A new flag will not make racism go away overnight. It just puts a different face on the same old same old.

Author
Jacksonlibertarian
Date
2011-04-08T22:05:08-06:00

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