“When I heard the news, I burst into tears. Tears of joy and gratitude. But also tears in memory of what happened all these years for this flag to disappear, “testifies Myrlie Evers-Williams, a black activist whose husband Medgar, famous civil rights activist, was assassinated by a white supremacist in 1963 in Mississippi. “His death was not in vain,” adds his widow. I have a feeling that Medgar knows and its wings clap with joy. “
On June 28, elected officials in Mississippi voted to replace the flag that has been in place for 126 years. It is the last banner of a state in the United States bearing the Confederate vestiges. For generations, critics have argued that a state with 38% of its population is African-American, the highest in the nation, should not be represented by this badge, a symbol of slavery and oppression. , brandished by the Ku Klux Klan and the supremacist groups. There were few spectators in the capitol galleries of Jackson, the state capital, because of social distance, but when the law was passed, they forgot the virus for a moment to kiss. Two days later, the governor signed the measure.
1861: “A negro is not equal to a white man”
The battle will have lasted a long time. Mississippi along with ten other states seceded to maintain slavery, the basis of its economic model when Abraham Lincoln, an abolitionist, was elected president in 1861. “Our new government is founded … on the great truth that a negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is its normal and natural condition “, declared the Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens in 1861. Even after the defeat of the South, the emblems of the confederation continued to flourish. Mississippi adopted in 1894, almost thirty years after the end of the American Civil War, this flag decorated with the blue cross on a red background which was in fact originally the banner of war of the Confederates.
For years, there have been multiple attempts to replace it. In vain. In 2001, after a referendum, voters overwhelmingly decided to keep it. The massacre five years ago by a white supremacist of nine blacks at a temple in Charleston, South Carolina, sparked a national movement and revived hope. The killer posed on photos with weapons and the southern flag and called for “a racial war”. Under pressure, the Republican Governor of South Carolina passed a law to remove the Confederate banner that has been floating on the Capitol since 1961. Montgomery, in Alabama, the governor also made take down the flag.
Over a hundred Confederate symbols and monuments have since been removed in the United States, but there were still around 1,700 in 2019, according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center. In Mississippi, the elected officials did not want to know anything, even if several cities and eight universities removed it. The flag returned to the fore this spring after the death of Georges Floyd, the black man killed during a police blunder in Minneapolis, and the huge demonstrations in favor of more justice. Across the country, statues of people deemed racist, including presidents, have been debunked, Princeton even renamed the Woodrow-Wilson building… Mississippi’s elected officials, once again, were swamped with calls for activists, sportsmen, businessmen, religious leaders.
But the resistance was still very strong. For many white residents of the state, the flag represents a historic heritage of which they are proud. They see it as a memory of the blood shed by their ancestors. Several polls have shown that almost half of the state is hostile to change. They insist that the struggle of the South was not for the maintenance of slavery, but for a noble cause, its independence and its freedom. “The citizen soldiers who fought for Confederation personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight, “said the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans on its website. “I don’t think the subject is really about flags,” said Chris McDaniel, an ardently elected Republican defender of the banner. It’s more important than that. I think we are talking about a structural and cultural revolution pushed by the far left, the intolerant left. “
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Some of his Republican colleagues were against a change, believing that voters had already voted in the 2001 referendum. The elected members of the House finally voted (91 votes to 23) in favor of a new flag. And 37 against 14 in the Senate. Republican governor Tate Reeves signed the measure after being very lukewarm. “It is not a political movement for me but a solemn occasion to reunite our family from Mississippi, to be reconciled and to move forward,” he said in his speech.
“Mississippi has two viable and beloved economies: soccer and the Baptist Church. The torture and death of George Floyd finally awakened the conscience of the two, “says Aunjanue Ellis, an actress and activist. The Baptist Convention, the state’s largest congregation with half a million worshipers, called a rare press conference to explain that the flag was “a relic of racism and a symbol of hate”.
The essential financial aspect
Two sports organizations, The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Southeastern Conference, have announced that they will ban any championship in Mississippi while the emblem is floating. Kylin Hill, an American football player, has threatened to quit playing for the University of Mississippi and dozens of football and basketball coaches have gone to the State Capitol to lobby officials.
More than the moral argument, it is the financial aspect which undoubtedly counted a lot. The business community and moderate Republicans felt that Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the country, could not afford to further lose its reputation and lose revenue from games and other events.
A commission must now work on a new emblem which should include the motto “In God We Trust”. It will be presented to voters in November. But the battle continues. There are still hundreds of Confederate emblems in Mississippi and elsewhere. The flags of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are also inspired by the Confederation banner. Several military bases are named after southern officers. Donald Trump has announced that he will veto any law that requires renaming the bases. A real headache for the Republicans.
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