When I heard the news of the massacre at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., last June, it horrified me, but I can't say it surprised me. I come from Mississippi, where the struggle for racial harmony has always been particularly tough and violent.
Ten people were convicted of assaulting African Americans in Jackson in racially motivated attacks. They harassed and assaulted poor, defenseless people with beer bottles and slingshots. One of these convictions came from the murder of an African American man, James Anderson, when an attacker went too far. They brutally beat and then ran him over with their truck.
This may seem like a scene from 50 years ago at the height of the civil rights conflict, but it isn't. These issues that Americans faced so many decades ago are the same ones we face today.
After every other state in the union has done the right thing and removed the Confederate symbol from their flags, Mississippi stands alone, steeped in injustice and fear. I need you to understand that I come from Mississippi. I know the history of my home state.
This is the state that is the last stronghold of overt racism and hatred towards African Americans. Mississippi is where Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy, was kidnapped and murdered—his killers known but allowed to walk free.
This is the state where police arrested nine students at Tougaloo College, all on a quest to reach their academic goals in their effort to live the American dream. Their crime? Reading in a "whites only" public library.
The entirety of the University of Mississippi erupted in outrage because of the Supreme Court's decision to allow a black man, James Meredith, to attend the school. The riot was so terrible that the National Guard had to mobilize for Meredith's protection.
This is where my forefathers were hung from trees and had the Confederate flag driven into the ground beside their bodies, and in April, our governor declared the month as "Confederate Heritage Month," proudly championing a symbol that has represented nothing but murder and injustice for an entire people.
This has been the legacy of Mississippi, but we are standing on a precipice. We are at a pivotal moment in history that will define our state and define us as Mississippians. This is the moment for us all to make the right choice. What will we do? Will we continue to follow the path laid out in our tragic history, or will we stand up for what we know is right? Our great state has made leaps and bounds as our country wrestled with its conscience and struggled with the horrors of the past. The entire country has a history that is thick with terrible crimes, but Americans have always strived to correct our country's wrongs.
This is why the Confederate symbol must go. This symbol is neither noble nor righteous. It represents nothing but hatred, bigotry and intolerance. We can no longer lift up and praise the history of a confederacy that went to war against our government for the "right" to slavery. We as Mississippians, as Americans, must disavow all symbols of hate. The world is watching us to see if we will hold ourselves to the same standards of justice and equality that we preach to other nations. Let's not perpetuate division by taking stands that continue to divide us. Our elected officials should work to unify us on the things that we have in common, not try to divide us with hate rhetoric.
The Confederate symbol has divided us for much too long. Mississippi, the spotlight is on us. We have an opportunity here to be an example for the entire country. Let's lead the conversation, and encourage change. We've done it before. We've come together to right the wrongs of the past, and take a stand for justice. Let's continue on the path that we've already begun to forge.
I come from Mississippi, and yes, this state has a terrible history. But we have such a rich future ahead of us. Let's call on Mississippi lawmakers to show the world how great this state can be and remove the Confederate symbol from the Mississippi state flag.
Duvalier Malone is the CEO and founder of Duvalier Malone Enterprises.