Following the attack on the congregation, the black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Confederate battle flag controversy has been brought back into the national limelight. We are again reminded that it is not just a symbol of our most devastating war when we chose up sides and tried to destroy each other, but it also speaks of today. While for many it was an emblem of pride, it certainly has been embraced by many who have made it their symbol of hate, groups like the KKK and skinheads or individuals who have it in their heart like the one hate-filled young man in South Carolina. While the Confederate banner is certainly a part of our history, it should not define our present or represent our future.
While it is only a piece of colored cloth, it does matter. Flags do matter. Let’s suppose that during the darkness one night another flag was run up flag poles all across Mississippi and it was the black flag representing the violent groups related to ISIS. We have watched as they have raised their flag over strategic cities across Iraq, but what if they were raised here in Mississippi? Just a flag, but what kind of outrage would take place when people got up and saw it? What kind of fear would be generated? Even as I write on this Friday, June 26, the ISIS terrorists with their black flag have struck a large plant in France and have gunned down innocent people on the beaches in North Africa all the while waving their flag.
What would happen if some groups of people took up the flag that had embroidered on it the swastika and began to march in the streets of America or our streets in Mississippi? How would we feel? Our great state has made huge strides toward our future and it is time that this banner be remembered but set aside. It is a part of our past but it need not to be our future. Our state leaders and legislators can take action to remove the flag in the same manner that they took action to give us casinos in Mississippi, though the people did not vote on it.
Fourteen years ago in 2001 when we were faced with a vote across our state on the flag, I wrote the article that appears below. The people voted and our flag remained. We are in a new day with another decision and another opportunity to embrace a new expression of freedom and move to build our future.
FLAG (Thoughts from 2001)
Our state Legislature has handed to us the responsibility of choosing one of two cloth banners to be our state flag. The word flag has differing meanings.
If you look up the definition you will find that flag is a noun that refers to a banner, or a piece of cloth, that represents a people or an idea. You will also find that flag is a possible verb, referring to someone who is getting tired. I guess it could be said, for many of us here in Mississippi, that both definitions are applicable to us as we approach April 17 – voting day!
Virtually everyone in the state has an opinion about the old and the proposed new state flag. According to the pollsters, Mississippians are divided over the flag, leaning toward keeping the 1894 version. Not only do Mississippians have an opinion about the flag, or flags, they also have strong feelings about people who have opinions about the flag. Some people, who have opinions about the flag and about other’s opinions, feel that nobody else should have an opinion! Certainly, ministers should not have an opinion about the flag, nor should governmental, academic, or athletic leaders. But, they all do – as well they should!
So how is it that a piece of cloth, regardless of the color or configuration, can engender such deep emotions? The old flag, or what is considered to be the present state flag of Mississippi, stirs deep emotions in two areas of life:
• The emotions of past history: In the upper left-hand corner of the flag is the emblem of what most consider to be the flag of the Confederacy. Some across the state can trace their heritage to family members who fought and died for that cause. Though the war was lost, the flag has continued to live. For some, it represents the living memory of their dead family members.
• The emotions of present independence: The other element of emotion that is stirred within Mississippians is that the flag may represent our fierce independence. It probably is an element that exists in every person and every state, but in Mississippi we just don’t like outsiders (foreigners) telling us what to do! At times, no doubt, we have carried this to the extreme and it has been simply hardheaded, cussed rebellion on our part, but we figure that this is “my land,” “my house,” “my town,” “my street,” and “my-whatever,” and I can do with it as I please!
But, that emotional symbolism is not shared by everyone, and understandably so. For some Mississippians that symbol conveys hurt and pain, because that part of the flag that was representative of the “old south” was wrapped around organizations whose goal was to hurt, hate, and suppress other people. While waving that banner, churches were burned, homes destroyed, and people killed. For those whose families were wrecked and ruined in the shadow of that banner, it is understandable why it is the symbol of pain.
Several years ago I visited the killing camps of Hitler’s Nazis at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Many of the records have been lost or destroyed, but somewhere around a million people were abused, misused, tortured, killed, and burned under a simple banner of red, white, and black with an angular emblem in the center called a swastika. The design of that emblem was creative and artistic, but now it is a classic representation of hate! While my family was never directly affected by the people who waved that banner, I stood and watched as family groups would come to the furnaces where their loved ones were annihilated and their uncontrolled tears moved my heart. The sight of that symbol broke their hearts.
So what could or should be said about the new proposed flag design? Some like it, some do not. Some think it is appealing and some think it is unattractive. It does have some positive, educational features about it. The cluster of 20 stars in the corner, with one being larger than the rest, indicates that Mississippi was the 20th state to come into the Union. The combination of red, white, and blue, like that of Old Glory with all of the symbolism attached, is appealing. The circle of 13 stars represents the 13 states, and the inner circle of six stars indicates the different flags that have flown over Mississippi, all of which are not without significance. The inclusive nature of a circle could be important and significant, if we are a state that is inclusive of all people.
The proposed flag has only been around for a few months, and therefore has had little or no chance to be historically important, but it could be. I was asked by someone several weeks ago, “Do you believe God cares what our state flag looks like?” “No,” I replied, “I doubt that he does! But, I do know that he deeply cares about the way we treat each other, speak to each other, and care for one another.”
Of course we’re not going to be voting right now but we all can have a different attitude right now. An attitude that would be involved prayerfully and thoughtfully looking forward to a better tomorrow and the best days that our state has ever known. Flags do matter. They can represent history but they can also represent our hearts, our hopes, and our highest aspirations for all Mississippians.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.