"Yay Medgar Yay! and Emmett and James, Andrew and Mickey and so many others.”
June 27, 2020 had been a VERY long time coming. "In God We Trust" will be an issue for about 15 to 20 percent of Mississippians but that was a political compromise needed to insure that the 50 precent offended by the 1894 flag are no longer offended and- most importantly- that Mississippi has sent a message to the rest of the U.S. and the world that Nissan, Toyota, Continental and other companies have made significant investments in the 'Sipp for good reasons, including our continuing progress on racial reconciliation. Believing that it is good to give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's, I would have preferred that the motto not be included but that is a very minor issue compared to the massive need for removing the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia from our state flag.
I suspected something was up when Lt. Gov. Hosemann assigned the bill to the Senate Constitution Committee including Hillman Frazier and our mutual friend and my old roommate Walter Michel. While there was much gnashing of Facebook teeth over this move, I advised the teeth gnashers to hold their horses as this drama unfolded, that all may not be lost. I had no inside information just supreme confidence in the Lt. Gov. and these two stalwart senators (among others) to get this done. I have long admired all three but I have never been more proud to call Walter Michel my friend than I am today. Kudos also to Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and his membership. And to Governor Tate Reeves, whom is blossoming from a right wing ideologue into a centrist leader before our very eyes. (Dare I say it but if he keeps this up, we might be talking Tate for President someday given the overwhelming need for leadership on racial reconciliation at the national level). Bravo!
This is not your granddaddy's Mississippi. We are successfully racially reconciling! We still have a LONG way to go but racial reconciliation is about progress, not perfection and we are definitely progressing. That reality should not only result in increased out of state/out of country investment in our state, but is a product/service in and of itself that can be exported to other states and other countries. No riots. No vandalism. No destruction of monuments. No rockets. No IUDs. No hijacked planes crashed into buildings. Just persistent, effective, long term. grass roots activism with a little outside persuasion a/k/a a little help from our friends at the NCAA, Walmart and others. Thank you!
But our work is not done as evidenced by polls that showed a popular vote would have been a 50/50 pick 'em. Assuming that 100 precent of Mississippi's black population would have voted against the 1894 flag, this polling data means that roughly 17 precent of Mississippi's non-black population would have voted against the 1894 flag. That underscores not only the need for continuing work on racial reconciliation but also illustrates the significance of the Mississippi Legislature in making this decision, rather than punting/pivoting to a popular vote.
I believe this dynamic will be huge going forward in the sense that the Legislature- as an entity- chose the state flag in 1894 and has rescinded it in 2020. This dynamic can bear more fruit from the tree of racial reconciliation right now. It is one thing to say you are sorry, it is something else entirely to first admit you were wrong and to then say you are sorry. Confederate Heritage Month? Surely you jest! It is time for white Mississippi's glorification of betraying the United States and getting our asses kicked for it to be rescinded across the board.
Speaking of admitting you were wrong and saying you are sorry, Mississippi led the nation with 654 documented lynchings between 1877 and 1950 according to the Equal Justice Project. (https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/) What about April being Lynching Victim Remembrance Month? Did white Mississippians really kill black Mississippians simply because the color of their skin was darker than their own? Did the "Hospitality State" really kill out of state visitors simply because they were here to help Black Mississippians? Positively yes to both questions and as hard as the lynching pictures are to look at, they are critical in documenting what happened down here so that the healing can continue. Black lives matter? You damn right they do and those lynching victims should be properly recognized and remembered.
Given this momentous occasion in the history of our state, I am reminded of Faulkner's quotes, “The past is never dead. It's not even past." and “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” Factor in Matthew 19:26 when Jesus said, "With God all things are possible" and John 4:8 "...God is love" and I believe that if we love each other enough, if we love each other fiercely despite our different skin colors, biases, perceptions and, yes, prejudices, there is helluva lot of the past that "We the People" of Mississippi can clean up along the road of racial reconciliation. "Yay, Mississippi, Yay!"
PS: For historical reference, the above quote is what Myrlie Evers shouted out in the courtroom when the guilty verdict against Byron de la Beckwith, her late husband's murderer, was read. Her quote inspired me then and it inspires me now. As does "Ho, ho, the status quo must go" by my friend and mentor the late, great John Reese, jazz club owner and promoter, who took a bunch of middle class white kids under his wing and showed us how to be racial reconciliation activists.
T. Logan Russell